Newly-released court records show more criminal charges in Colorado against former Española city manager David Valdez related to money he allegedly stole from area cannabis producers.
These include a class four felony charge for theft from his former District, a seemingly related class five felony embezzlement charge, and two class five felony charges of theft from local cannabis growers.
A criminal complaint filed by the Pueblo County District Attorney Sept 9. alleges Valdez stole between $20,000 and $99,999 from the Colorado City Metropolitan District and embezzled from the District.
The complaint is unclear whether the embezzlement was of the funds in the previous charge, or its own incident.
The District Attorney’s Office also charged him with stealing between $5,000 and $19,999 from two licensed cannabis growers, Plain Jane Organics and White Meadows Cultivation.
The criminal complaint, which resulted from a Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office investigation requested by the District Board in June, sets the dates of the alleged crimes between May 1, 2017 and Sept. 30, 2018, while Valdez worked as the District Manager.
Class four felonies are punishable with two to six years in prison and fines of $2,000 to $500,000 and class five felonies are punishable are punishable with one to three years in prison and fines of $1,000 to $100,000. If sentenced to prison on multiple charges, a defendant could be allowed to serve the sentences concurrently. Valdez’s first appearance in court is set for Oct. 9. He was issued a summons but not arrested.
White Meadows Cultivation employee Sean Henry said in an interview that Valdez told him that because of their licensing as cannabis growers, the company had to pay a fee up front to use a District water pump, in addition to the normal flat rate. Henry said their two payments directly to Valdez amounted to about $5,000.
“A year after that, we basically found out that we shouldn’t have been paying anything,” he said. “He just duped us on getting the water.”
Current District Manager James Eccher said there is no additional fee for cannabis growers to use the District water pump.
Valdez listed the establishment of cannabis business policies as an achievement in his cover letter to the city of Española and “familiarity water law” as a professional highlight on his resume.
The Sheriff’s Office had said in a Sept. 13 press release that Valdez faced an unspecified number of class five felony charges for theft and embezzlement and that cash allegedly paid to Valdez by water customers never reached District accounts, though Valdez wrote receipts for the payments.
The Española City Council fired Valdez in June amid a still-pending investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office into more than $18,000 that went missing from the Utilities Department in City Hall, where residents can pay their water and trash bills.
Attorney General spokesperson Matt Baca said Tuesday the investigation is nearing completion.
“The Attorney General has committed full resources considering this high-risk situation,” he wrote.
Former Española Utilities Department billing supervisor Nadine Trujillo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Valdez and the city in July, alleging Valdez created a hostile work environment that forced her to resign after she reported the money missing.
The money was found to be missing less than two weeks after Valdez joined the city government April 1. Though no suspect has been named, Eccher said in a July interview that the New Mexico Attorney General’s office called the District the week before Valdez’s July termination.
Colorado City Metropolitan District credit card statements show Valdez used over $4,000 in District funds at casinos in 2015, but former District officials said the money was reimbursed. Signatures on the credit statements indicate former District Board members and staff were aware of the spending, but none of the current Board members had been elected.
In an email releasing the criminal complaint, Pueblo County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Marzavas said the office would not provide further reports or information to avoid unfairly influencing a trial.