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Editorial: Delays dismantle N.M. election corruption case

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It’s painful to watch a high profile case of alleged fraud in a former Secretary of State’s Office slowly disintegrate like an old truck rambling down the road with parts falling off one by one by the wayside. What’s left is a skeleton headed for the judicial junkyard.

Lack of speedy trials are largely dismantling the state’s prosecutions against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron; Daisy Kupfer, an administrator under a former attorney general; her husband, Joe Kupfer, a former lobbyist; and Armando Gutierrez, a Texas political consultant.

Charges against them allege they diverted millions of dollars in federal money meant for a voter education campaign from 2004 to 2006. The four were named in a massive indictment in state District Court in 2009 on 49 counts each of conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and soliciting or paying a kickback.

Since then a key witness has died, several judges have had the case, special prosecutors were brought in after Attorney General Gary King was disqualified over conflict of interest allegations, and a District Court judge twice ruled delays have been prejudicial to the accused.

District Judge Reed Sheppard of Albuquerque recently ruled – similar to his ruling a year ago in the case against Vigil-Giron – that the Daisy Kupfer case isn’t looking good for prosecutors.

He wrote Kupfer had established that the delay had inflicted her with actual prejudice – health problems and the loss of a critical witness. The judge noted that in 2009 the state Supreme Court found that even complex cases should be tried within 18 months and after that a delay may be presumed to be prejudicial.

It’s been four years, and so far no one has been convicted or even gone to trial in the state case, and certainly not exonerated on the merits. The state case against Vigil-Giron was dismissed for lack of a speedy trial, and the same result seems likely for Daisy Kupfer. The judge has not ruled in the state cases against Joe Kupfer and Gutierrez.

Meanwhile in federal court, the Kupfers were convicted of evading taxes on about $750,000, and Joe Kupfer and Gutierrez were convicted of violations of the Help America Vote Act. The two were convicted of stealing more than $2.5 million of the $6.3 million in federal money that Gutierrez’ firm received from the Secretary of State’s Office. Daisy Kupfer and Gutierrez have been sentenced to federal prison. Vigil-Giron was not indicted in the federal case.

While some delays are not entirely King’s fault, in hindsight it’s clear the attorney general should have anticipated he might be removed to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest; from the get-go he should have stepped away.

Now, New Mexicans are unlikely to get their day in court in a case involving millions of taxpayers’ dollars that is clearly in the public’s interest.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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