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Former tax collector pleads guilty to extortion

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A former tax collector with the state Taxation and Revenue Department pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion during his first appearance in federal court Friday morning.

Larry Mendoza, 44, is facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, according to the plea agreement. The agreement ensures he won’t face additional charges for the scheme and prosecutors are recommending that he be sentenced to the low end of federal sentencing guidelines, though it’s not clear what that sentence would be.

Mendoza accepted cash and checks from businesses that owed taxes, sometimes collecting the money in various parking lots. At one point in the investigation, Mendoza was recorded on tape saying “call me Mr. Cash,” Kari Converse, Mendoza’s attorney, said in court.

FBI agents started investigating Mendoza in February 2017 when they were approached by the owner of Dos Amigos Anglers, a Santa Fe fly-fishing business, who said he was extorted by Mendoza. Mendoza initially threatened that the state would seize the fishing business for unpaid taxes and then offered to reduce the company’s tax burden in exchange for cash payments of around $500 at a time, according to search warrants in the case.

Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing released Mendoza under certain conditions after his court appearance.

“There’s a whole long story of what led to this. But it’s not par for the course for him,” Converse said in court. “He’s scared to death.”

Converse couldn’t be reached for comment after the hearing.

Mendoza’s sentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled.

Mendoza worked for the state from 2007 through 2017, and starting in 2013 he was responsible for collecting outstanding taxes from business owners, according his plea agreement.

Prosecutors said in the plea agreement that Mendoza was responsible for between $40,000 and $95,000 in losses.

“Following Mr. Mendoza’s departure, the (taxation and revenue) Department has conducted internal reviews of its processes and strengthened internal security measures to address the conduct of Mr. Mendoza while he was an employee here,” Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the department, said in an email.