ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former media consultant Armando Gutierrez, who once advised some of New Mexico’s top Democratic politicians, died Tuesday, the day before he was to start serving a 10-year sentence for stealing more than $2 million in federal voter education funds.
Gutierrez, 65, died in Corpus Christi, Texas, of an apparent heart attack, said his attorney John Bennett, of Amarillo, Texas. Gutierrez lived in Corpus Christi but had maintained a home in Albuquerque.
Gutierrez was convicted Jan. 31 of conspiracy to commit theft of government property in overbilling for a voter education media campaign from 2004 to 2006 that featured then-Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron in television ads.
Gutierrez also was accused of trying to conceal his crimes by submitting false invoices and other documents to federal investigators.
At the time of his death, Gutierrez had lost a bid to remain free pending the appeal of the jury verdict to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was scheduled to report to a federal prison in Texas on Wednesday to begin serving his sentence.
“This is horrible,” Bennett said in a brief phone interview on Wednesday. Gutierrez’s sentence of 10 years marked the longest prison term to be imposed in a New Mexico public corruption case in recent history, according to attorneys familiar with the case.
Vigil-Giron, who now is known as Rebecca Vigil, at one time faced charges in a related state case, but those were dismissed on speedy trial issues. She has maintained she did nothing wrong in approving Gutierrez’s contract and billings.
Gutierrez had asked for leniency in his sentencing because he took care of a 93-year-old mother, a wife in ill health and a 17-year-old son with autism.
“I knew him to be a honorable man and we worked very, very hard to put together a great media campaign for New Mexico,” Vigil said on Wednesday. “He went way beyond what he was actually paid and he did great. I am just so disappointed in the justice system.”
Gutierrez asked for the delay in reporting to prison in part because he was trying to sell real estate to pay more than $2.5 million in court-ordered restitution and fees.
His Albuquerque attorney, Ahmad Assed, couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday. But Assed said at Gutierrez’s Aug. 19 sentencing hearing that his client had risen in prominence as a national Hispanic media consultant prior to the criminal investigation that led to the federal charges against him.
A website for his firm, Gutierrez & Associates, no longer exists, but at one time it noted that his former clients included former Gov. Bill Richardson, former Attorney General Patricia Madrid, and the Clinton/Gore campaigns in 1992 and 1996.