Something smells rotten in Dona Ana County.
Mark D’Antonio, district attorney for the 3rd Judicial District centered in Las Cruces, abruptly dismissed embezzlement charges against a Sunland Park contractor accused of misusing $262,000 of the border city’s money.
That has left fellow prosecutors and investigators scratching their heads. They say the case was “absolutely” good to go to trial.
But D’Antonio has called it “garbage” and “weak,” characterizations that have ticked off State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. He stands by his investigators.
Now, D’Antonio isn’t returning phone calls or emails seeking comment on his decision.
Charges against Annette Morales, who had headed up a community consulting agency, were filed during an investigation of the city’s municipal government. The ensuing scandal involved the mayor-elect, a city councilor and nearly two dozen other defendants. Morales was accused of charging for services that were not documented or were outside the scope of her $1 million contract. She has denied any wrongdoing.
Shortly after taking office on Jan. 1, D’Antonio, a Democrat, asked state Attorney General Gary King to take over prosecuting some of the Sunland Park cases after an El Paso television station suggested D’Antonio had a conflict because several defense attorneys representing defendants had donated to his campaign.
He asked 12th Judicial District Attorney Diana Martwick of Alamogordo to take the Morales case. Martwick agreed and received files from D’Antonio’s office, but a couple of weeks later his office called and wanted them back. Martwick says that was unusual and that she never received a written appointment as special prosecutor, either.
It’s up to a DA to prosecute a case or not, but D’Antonio owes fellow prosecutors, investigators and the people of Sunland Park a better explanation than it’s “garbage.” Because his “garbage” explanation stinks.
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.