The Pueblo County District Attorney filed felony theft and embezzlement charges against former Española city manager David Valdez for alleged “financial improprieties” in his role as Colorado City Metropolitan District Manager, from which he resigned in 2018.
A Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office investigation found at least two Colorado City, Colo. customers allegedly paid Valdez for water service in cash, but the money was never deposited into a Metro District account. A Sept. 13 press release from the Sheriff’s Office states Valdez wrote receipts for thousands of dollars found to be missing.
Charged with a class five felony, if found guilty Valdez could face one to three years in prison and fines of $1,000 to $100,000. He was issued a summons and his first appearance in Pueblo County court is set for Oct. 9.
Valdez had no previous criminal history, according to a third party background check prior to his hiring by the city of Española. The report from the city’s background investigator said several financial agencies placed liens on Valdez’s property totaling over $4,000 in 2016.
In the press release, Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor thanked District officials for their cooperation in the investigation.
Valdez was fired from the Española city government amid an 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.
The money was found to be missing less than two weeks after Valdez joined the city government April 1. The investigation is pending and no suspect has been named. Current Metro District Manager James Eccher said in a July interview that the New Mexico Attorney General’s office called the District the week before Valdez’s July 5 termination by the Española City Council.
The District Board voted in June to solicit an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office due to financial discrepancies relating to Valdez. He resigned last August, one week before an independent auditor visited the District Board to present an audit of the District’s 2017 finances, but was kept on briefly as a contractor to smooth the transition, according to Board minutes.
Current Board Chair Terry Kraus said in an August interview that Valdez’s work was monitored during that time.
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 at the time.
New Mexico Attorney General spokesperson Matt Baca said Monday the Española utilities investigation remains active, but no charges have been filed.
Former Española Utilities Department Billing Supervisor Nadine Trujillo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Valdez and the city government July 19, alleging Valdez created a hostile work environment that essentially forced her to resign after she reported the money missing.
The Rio Grande SUN released exclusive City Hall security footage of Valdez on the day utilities funds were found missing on its YouTube profile Wednesday.
Española Mayor Javier Sanchez said Monday we should see where the case goes.
“It’s unfortunate all the way around,” he said.
Valdez has been unreachable for comment since his firing and Kraus said in August he would no longer speak to SUN reporters.