Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is asking a judge to dismiss public corruption charges against her, claiming investigators in Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office violated her due process rights by secretly recording a conversation with her attorney – via a coffeepot outfitted with a recording device – before she was arrested in December 2016.
But the AG’s Office denies surreptitiously listening in on Padilla’s privileged chat, saying the coffeepot recording device – which was on loan from the Albuquerque Police Department – stopped recording while she was talking with her attorney.
“There was no ‘intrusion’ into the attorney-client relationship, deliberate or not,” two assistant attorneys general wrote in a court response filed Tuesday in which they asked the judge to deny the motion.
The allegation of secret recording is at the heart of just one of several pending defense motions in a long-simmering case that’s scheduled to go to trial this summer.
In the initial motion, Padilla’s attorney, Paul Kennedy, argued that AG’s Office agents hid “multiple” recording devices around the office in which they were interviewing Padilla – more than a year before she was ultimately charged with a crime. One of the recording devices was built into a coffeepot to record and transmit both audio and video to another office in the building.
When Padilla asked to speak privately with her attorney, they were not informed of the secret camera, according to the court filing. Their subsequent conversation was also likely used to help guide the AG’s Office’s investigation, the filing claims.
“In this case, the state’s conduct violated due process and warrants dismissal,” Kennedy argued in the motion, adding that the secret recording in the attorney general’s Albuquerque office violated Padilla’s attorney-client privilege.
He also accused the AG’s Office of “outrageous government conduct.”
But Balderas’ office countered that it had a “legitimate law enforcement interest” in recording agents’ interview of Padilla, saying such video recordings can be used to document one’s body language and demeanor.
The AG’s Office also claimed in its court response that Padilla was told her interview with investigators was being recorded – although apparently the coffeepot recording device was not disclosed.
“The Office of the Attorney General will always properly safeguard evidence, and as demonstrated in the previous transparent preliminary hearing, defendant and her attorney were informed that their interview was appropriately recorded and no privileged communications were obtained,” Attorney General’s Office spokesman David Carl told the Journal.
One of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s original Cabinet appointees, Padilla abruptly resigned in December 2016, shortly after state investigators raided the Taxation and Revenue Department’s office in Santa Fe in search of tax documents connected to Padilla and her husband.
She was then charged by the AG’s Office in June 2018 with embezzling more than $25,000 from a Bernalillo-based company, Harold’s Grading & Trucking, and using her appointed position to push for favorable tax treatment.
A Santa Fe Magistrate Court judge ruled in November that there was enough evidence to move forward with most of the charges in the case.
If convicted of all seven charges she is still facing, Padilla, who has pleaded not guilty, could face up to 16 years in prison and as much as $20,000 in fines. In addition to embezzlement, other charges against her include violating the ethical principles of public service and engaging in an official act for personal financial gain.
District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer could rule on the motion later this month.