A sculpture of an iguana that’s 4 to 5 feet long and weighs up to 150 pounds was stolen from a bar at Pojoaque Pueblo’s Buffalo Thunder resort last month, and a Pojoaque Valley School Board member was quickly identified as the larceny suspect who carried away the bronze reptile.
According to a sheriff’s detective’s report filed in court, a surveillance camera caught school board member Jon Paul Romero, 45, picking up the sculpture from its spot in the Red Sage Bar and leaving the resort the night of Sept. 27.
The sheriff’s office later served a search warrant at Romero’s home and recovered the sculpture, said to be valued at several thousand dollars.
Looking through a window, the detective spotted the bronze iguana “lying on the living room floor” at Romero’s house on Wyman Drive, according to the sheriff’s office report.
Romero has not been arrested or charged. The sheriff’s office recently turned the case over to the district attorney’s office to determine if charges would be filed.
Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco said she has referred Romero to a pre-prosecution program, where first-time, non-violent offenders can avoid charges and prosecution by meeting certain requirements.
Efforts by the Journal on Wednesday to reach Romero using the phone number and e-mail address listed on the Pojoaque Valley School District website were unsuccessful.
While Romero’s lawyer said he does not have a felony record, he has been arrested several times for DWI.
When Romero ran unsuccessfully for a Santa Fe County Commission seat in 2010, court records showed he had six drunken-driving arrests and two convictions between 1991 and 2003. The state had revoked his driver’s license four times.
At the time, Romero said he’d made mistakes as a younger man and no longer drinks and drives and that he was serving on the county DWI Planning Council so he could help educate others.
Tom Clark, Romero’s lawyer, said Wednesday that Romero doesn’t dispute that he took the iguana sculpture and acknowledges that he had been drinking. “There’s video footage that it happened,” Clark said.
He added that Romero is “being treated the same as any similarly situated defendant” with no felony criminal offenses on his record by being offered the pre-prosecution program. Romero’s past DWIs were misdemeanors, Clark said.
“He’s taking responsibility, and he’s going to enter the program,” Clark added.
Iguana goes missing
According to the county detective’s affidavit used to get a warrant to search Romero’s house, Red Sage Bar employees noticed the iguana sculpture was missing during the early morning hours of Sept. 27.
A county deputy called to Buffalo Thunder was shown a surveillance video that recorded “a short in stature, stocky male” wearing a lime green shirt, khaki shorts and a baseball cap pick up the sculpture and leave about 9:30 p.m. on the previous day.
Buffalo Thunder’s security director identified the man in the video as Romero, “a frequent customer.”
Detectives then went to Romero’s house and found no one home but saw the sculpture inside. They took pictures, obtained a search warrant and searched Romero’s house about 8:45 p.m. Sept. 27. Recovered in the search were the bronze iguana from the living room as well as three lime green shirts from various parts of the house.
Romero also has served on the Santa Fe County Development Review Committee.