More than $18,500 was discovered missing from the City of Española’s utilities department April 12, but Española Police Department Officers were not assigned to the investigation until nearly two weeks later. Now, the Attorney General’s Office has taken over the investigation.
Española Police Department Public Relations Officer Brandon Archuleta, who investigated the theft, said he interviewed multiple employees, but no one could tell him what happened to the money.
“No confessions, no fingers pointed,” Archuleta said in a June 5 interview. “It was like ‘Poof!’ It went missing and nobody knows where.”
Archuleta said he has turned over the case to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
Sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. April 12, a prepared bank deposit containing $6,800 in cash and nearly $12,000 in checks went missing, Archuleta said.
The money was collected by the Utilities Department from customers paying their bill, Archuleta said.
He said Nadine Trujillo noticed the money was missing when she went to get the deposit and take it to the bank. She immediately went to notify her supervisor, Public Works Director Steven Trujillo, but could not locate him at the time, so instead she informed Grants Manager Diahann Jacquez, who he said used to work in the Utilities Department.
Archuleta said Jacquez and Nadine Trujillo then went together to locate Steven Trujillo.
After locating Steven Trujillo, the group began to search the office, Archuleta said.
“They go back in there and tear the office apart looking for it,” Archuleta said. “Then they call in (General Services Director) Jeff Sergeant...(to) look through the trash bins, the dumpsters, because they hoped maybe, by some chance, somebody threw it away.”
After the extensive search, the employees went home, Archuleta said. He said it was odd that the Police Department was not called to the scene the day that the money went missing.
“I think it’s odd,” Department Sgt. Jeremy Apodaca said. “But at the same time, it’s kind of like in the back of my mind is they’re going ‘Oh no, what do we do?’ They know what they need to do, but they’re horrified.”
Archuleta said he had asked why it took so long for the Department to be notified, and that he was told city officials were waiting and hoping that the missing money would simply turn-up.
“All this evidence, this potential evidence that we could have collected that day, fingerprints, whatever,” Archuleta said. “Any evidence that we could have collected is gone now.”
City Manager David Valdez said he had notified and spoken to now-former interim chief David Osuna the day the money went missing. He said he did not know why it took so long for Osuna to assign the case to one of his officers.
Valdez said he, Osuna and Mayor Javier Sanchez had discussed the missing money and Osuna determined there was no conflict of interest in having city police investigate the crime.
“Osuna did not see a conflict of interest,” Valdez said. “He said they could absolutely do it.”
Archuleta said security camera footage showed approximately six employees accessed the area near the utilities vault during the timeframe in question and that he had interviewed each of those people.
“They were all asked (to take a polygraph test),” Archuleta said. “All of them declined it.”
The investigation into the theft will no longer be a concern for the Department, since it has handed all of the collected evidence over to the Attorney General’s Office.
“To maintain transparency, because it’s the city handling the city, the case has been turned over to the AG’s office,” Apodaca said. “That’s also because of the resources that they have, they have a lot more resources than we do. Not that we’re incapable of handling this, but for those main points: transparency and resources.”
Since the investigation, Nadine Trujillo has left her position in the Utilities Department. She was not named as a suspect by the Police Department, and declined to comment on the record about her departure.
“I can tell you this,” Valdez said June 10. “It was, and still is, a deeply concerning matter. It’s still not over. It’s still not over on another issue. There’s still some personnel issues.”
Valdez said there are still more changes to come, but declined to elaborate. He said city leaders are currently working with the insurance company and determining what steps need to be taken to appropriately handle the situation.
He said customers affected were not in any danger of having their service interrupted in the interim, and that city leaders are currently reviewing any steps that need to be taken to protect customers’ account information.