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Deliberations begin in wiretap-leak case

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

An eight-woman, four-man jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon on the fate of retired educator Danny Burnett, who faces federal charges that he leaked information about a wiretap investigation into a gun-smuggling ring in the border town of Columbus.

Earlier in the day, Burnett testified that he never told then-Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega about a federal wiretap during a Feb. 17, 2011, lunch in Albuquerque and never told Vega that he was under investigation.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Spitzer told the jury that there was plenty of evidence about the leak before Vega, who has pleaded guilty to being a member of the gun-smuggling ring, pointed a finger at Burnett as the source of the information.

As a result of the leak, agents were unable to put together a companion drug case against the defendants or capture the Juárez Cartel leader of the group, Ignacio Villalobos, Spitzer said.

Burnett’s attorney, Jacquelyn Robins, said that Vega was lying and that his actions were those of a corrupt cop who was paid $40,000 by the cartel for his aid in keeping track of law enforcement efforts to investigate the gun-smuggling ring.

“He has everything to gain and nothing to lose by lying,” Robins said.

Burnett, a retired educator, knew Vega for decades. Burnett was school superintendent in Carrizozo and took Vega under his wing when Vega was a student in the school system there.

Burnett testified that he met with Vega for lunch on Feb. 17, 2011, because he was trying to buy Burnett’s old pickup truck for cash and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Burnett said he didn’t plan on selling the truck and was concerned about where Vega had gotten the rifle.

Burnett said he didn’t think Vega could afford to buy the weapon and may have taken it from an evidence room.

“I told him if he didn’t legally own the gun, he needed to rectify that situation,” Burnett said.

Burnett said he never discussed any wiretaps or federal investigation with Vega.

Burnett is the husband of veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Burnett, who headed the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office when the Columbus investigation was going full steam.

Paula Burnett’s access to information about the wiretaps was disputed throughout the trial.

She did not testify, but according to court records, she denied knowing much about the investigation.

Prosecutor Spitzer said the obvious inference was that Paula Burnett told her husband that Vega was under investigation and about the wiretaps.

Robins told the jury that Paula Burnett was “walled off” from the investigation as soon as Vega’s name came up.

Paula Burnett watched closing arguments with friends, some of whom testified on her husband’s behalf, attesting to his character and integrity.

The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations this morning.

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