Monday was another bad day for the border town of Sunland Park. (View Tuesday morning’s update on Salinas’ new arrest)
♦ Acting Police Chief Luis Monarez became the seventh person to be charged in the alleged extortion attempt involving a lap dance and a mayoral candidate. He was charged with bribery and conspiracy, fourth-degree felonies.
♦ Newly elected Mayor Daniel Salinas’ problems — which include not being able to enter City Hall or talk to city employees while facing extortion charges — got worse: Prosecutors filed additional charges of bribery and conspiracy against him as well. Bond was set at $50,000 apiece, cash only, for both men.
♦ And Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration announced the state could suspend certain Sunland Park city officials and take over the town’s finances within the next month, moves that would be without precedent in recent New Mexico history.
Such action is on hold pending the release of a special review conducted by state Auditor Hector Balderas’ office.
That audit, which was initiated last month, has already uncovered incomplete payroll records, questionable payments to city councilors and a lack of documents justifying city services, Balderas said Monday during a news conference held outside the Governor’s Office.
Meanwhile, Steven Blankenship, a prosecutor for Doña Ana County District Attorney’s Office, said Monday evening that Monarez had been arrested and State Police were still attempting to locate and arrest Salinas on the new charges.
The charges revolve around claims that Salinas supporters tried to force his chief mayoral rivals, Gerardo Hernandez, 59, to drop his bid for office by threatening to release a videotape showing him getting a lap dance from a topless woman.
Blankenship said investigators served search warrants Monday for Monarez’s city personnel records and his work and home computers.
Salinas, 28, was initially arrested Feb. 28. He was freed after posting a $50,000 bond and terms of the release ban him from City Hall and talking to city employees.
The mayoral election on March 6 was fraught with problems, ranging from questions about early and absentee voting to voter fraud.
The scandal’s arrest sheet reads like a who’s who of Sunland Park’s municipal government and, besides Salinas and Monarez, includes a former city councilor, the city’s public information officer, the city manager, an assistant human resources director and the public works director.
“The arrests of top city management have created an administrative instability and we’ve encountered an overwhelmed staff that has (been) left to deal with the financial operations of a city that is already in financial disarray,” Balderas said.
Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford said it’s unclear how many Sunland Park officials could be suspended, but said the number might end up being as high as 20.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal