LAS CRUCES – After a meeting last week with prosecutors, New Mexico State Police investigators are again reviewing a recently dismissed, high-profile embezzlement case involving a Las Cruces planning consultant and the city of Sunland Park.
Last month, the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office dropped felony embezzlement charges against Annette Morales. A former contractor with Sunland Park, the 50-year-old Morales had been arrested in August 2012, accused of taking more than $250,000 from the south county city and using those funds to pay for home improvement projects and personal items, including vehicles, meals and home decor.
Morales, owner of Medius Inc., has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
District Attorney Mark D’Antonio said last week he firmly supports the decision to dismiss the case, one that has been questioned by attorneys and investigators in recent weeks.
“It’s not even a close call as far as I’m concerned,” D’Antonio said.
However, D’Antonio admitted he erred in not keeping State Police investigators abreast of the decision to drop the Morales case.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas recently told the Albuquerque Journal he was “baffled” by the case’s dismissal, adding that he stood by the work of his investigators.
That lack of communication led to an Oct. 2 meeting between D’Antonio and Ryan Suggs of the New Mexico State Police’s investigators bureau.
“As a result of the meeting, we agreed our investigators would sit back down and review the specifics on the case,” Suggs wrote Wednesday in an email to the Sun-News. “When this review is complete, if the investigators or the DA’s office feel there is something that was overlooked and warrants a second review, Mr. D’Antonio agreed to do so.”
Because the case was dismissed with prejudice, authorities can pursue charges again, if need be.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Rubino handled the Morales case since August. He is the third prosecutor to oversee the case – Morales had been indicted under former DA Amy Orlando’s regime.
It was Rubino who filed the document to dismiss the case. He specialized in examining white-collar crimes.
In explaining his rationale last week, Rubino started with state jury instructions. Those identify for jurors what the state has to prove in order for them to reach a guilty verdict.
To prove embezzlement, according to New Mexico law, prosecutors must show a defendant was entrusted with something of value. Then, with intentions to deceive the other party, converted it to their own use.
“The facts don’t fit the jury instructions,” Rubino said last week as he reviewed the file in his office.