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Judge under investigation for embezzlement

Former sheriff Heath White

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The former Torrance County sheriff – now a magistrate judge – is under investigation for reportedly spending more than $157,000 of county money on guns, Yeti coolers, night-vision goggles, surveillance cameras and other pricey items for his personal use.

Heath White, whose second term as sheriff came to a close at the end of 2018, has not been charged.

But on Thursday, New Mexico State Police officers filed three search warrants in 2nd Judicial District Court detailing the investigation and the property they found.

White could not be reached for comment and the Torrance County Sheriff’s Office referred all enquiries to State Police.

For its part, State Police released a statement that did not identify White by name, but did confirm it is investigating “a former Torrance County Sheriff’s Office employee for suspected embezzlement of Torrance County funds.”

“When the investigation is complete it will be forwarded to the appropriate attorneys for prosecution,” officer Ray Wilson, a State Police spokesman, wrote in the statement. “There is currently no additional information available for release. State Police Investigations Bureau agents continue to investigate this active case.”

According to a search warrant affidavit, on March 8, a State Police officer was told that, between October and November 2018, multiple items had been purchased that could not be found in an inventory of county equipment.

And after newly elected Sheriff Martin Rivera and his detectives compared the equipment they did find to purchase orders placed by the department, they found “numerous high dollar items” that could not be accounted for.

The items included firearms, firearm parts, a welder, a generator, vehicle parts, a drone, coolers, night-vision goggles, a thermal rifle scope, surveillance systems and more. Officers also said that while county funds had been used at a local gun shop for a process called “hydro-dipping” – imprinting designs and graphics onto a gun – none of the sheriff’s office guns had undergone that process.

However, multiple guns sold through White’s personal business had, according to the affidavit.

In mid-April, White emailed the sheriff’s office saying he had been going through his property and found several firearms that he wanted to return. A couple of days later, he emailed again to say that after more searching, he found an air compressor, shelving, a tool box and other small items.

“Based on statements from Heath of spending large amounts of time going through his belongings looking for more property which belongs to Torrance County, there is a high likelihood of additional evidence being located at the properties owned by Heath,” the officer wrote in the affidavit. “There is also a high likelihood of the destruction of this evidence as it is located and identified by Heath as being property of Torrance County.”

When officers executed the search warrant, they found an additional 52 items, including tactical gear, cameras and more. Officers also seized White’s 1985 Chevrolet truck because they said he had refurbished it with parts bought with county money.

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