SUNLAND PARK — Another city employee suspected of involvement in an alleged extortion attempt against a mayoral candidate was arrested Tuesday as backers of embattled City Councilor Daniel Salinas demonstrated their support for the jailed politician.
Meanwhile, late Tuesday afternoon Secretary of State Dianna Duran visited Sunland Park’s city hall with several key deputies in an ongoing investigation into suspected irregularities in the March 6 municipal election.
Duran declined to specify the possible irregularities under investigation until the review is complete and any findings are forwarded to District Attorney Amy Orlando in Las Cruces.
“We are committed to ensuring the integrity of elections in New Mexico,” said Duran, who was accompanied by Bureau of Elections Director Bobbi Shearer and Deputy Secretary of State Mary Quintana. The group met with Orlando before heading south to Sunland Park, where it was expected to remain until today.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we are trying to establish what happened,” Duran said.
State Police on Saturday arrested Salinas, 28, and City Manager Jaime Aguilera, 61, on extortion, tampering with evidence, and conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged attempt to force a rival mayoral candidate, Gerardo Hernandez, from the race with the threat of releasing a video showing Hernandez getting a lap dance from a topless woman.
According to arrest warrant documents, Aguilera on Feb. 15 transferred the extortion video from Salinas’ laptop computer to the city manager’s office computer. The transfer, and editing to generate a still image, occurred the day before Hernandez reported being approached by an unidentified man who said the video would be released unless the candidate dropped out of the race.
On Tuesday, 26-year-old El Paso resident Martah Alondra Lozano, who is employed as an assistant to the Sunland Park human resources director and as the city’s acting youth director reporting to Aguilera, was arrested on charges of tampering with evidence and conspiracy. Lozano turned herself in to authorities and was being held at the Doña Ana County Detention Center in lieu of a $50,000 bond.
Investigators allege Salinas directed Lozano to grab two laptop computers from city hall and leave with them on Feb. 21 as State Police arrived with a warrant to seize evidence in the extortion case.
Salinas supporters demonstrated Tuesday in front of the county courthouse and later in front of Sunland Park’s city hall with signs proclaiming the mayoral candidate’s innocence and calling for a reduction in his $50,000 cash-only bond.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal