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Preliminary hearing in Torrance case wraps up

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Although the four-day preliminary hearing for Torrance County manager Joy Ansley and contractor Christopher Valdez wrapped up Thursday, the judge chose to allow each side two weeks to write and submit closing arguments.

Chris Lackmann, from the Attorney General’s Office, strongly opposed the extension proposed by Ansley’s attorney, Michael Alarid. Lackmann said it is an unusual request to make in a criminal case.

“I think it’s nonsensical,” Lackmann said. “We’re all professionals, and it’s absurd to suggest after four days we aren’t prepared to present the closing arguments.”

Ansley and Valdez are charged with conspiracy and fraud through misappropriation of more than $470,000 in public funds through change orders and inflated invoices between July 2007 and November 2008.

The case and hearing had been sealed until lawyers for the Albuquerque Journal filed a motion this week to open it to the public and media. Valdez’s attorney, Mathew Bradburn, had contended the prosecution’s theory about the illicit sexual relationship between the two would taint the jury, leading Judge Kenenth Martinez to grant a blanket seal over the case.

During the continuation of her testimony on Thursday, Ansley’s friend Jessica Miller reiterated that although she found out about the affair between the defendents in 2011, she did not know when it occurred.

Witnesses for the defense testified about the quality of work Valdez completed and the process by which Ansley paid him. Torrance County attorney Dennis Wallin said there was nothing unusual about numerous change orders or paying a contractor before work is completed.

Lonnie Freyburger began serving on the County Commission in 2011 and testified that he personally looks into every consent agenda item, including payments for change orders, before approval. However, Freyburger was not on the commission during the time period in question.

Sitting County Commissioners LeRoy Candelaria and Leanne Tapia traveled from Torrance County all week in support of Ansley. Candelaria said he was not swayed by the prosecution’s evidence.

“It’s pretty clear no crime has been committed,” he said. “I used to be a contractor, and we had to make changes all the time.”

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