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Ex-Ayudando chief tests positive for virus in NM prison

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to clarify the operators of a pair of detention facilities.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Former Ayudando Guardians Inc. President Susan Harris has tested positive for the COVID-19 infection at a New Mexico federal detention center while awaiting sentencing on multiple fraud charges, her attorney said.

Albuquerque lawyer Robert Gorence said Tuesday that he was informed in an email from the U.S. Marshals Service that his 73-year-old client was being “medically supervised” at the privately run Cibola County Correctional Center.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday where Harris may have contracted the virus.

She has been locked up since she and her husband were captured in Shawnee, Oklahoma, on April 15, after they failed to show up for sentencing on federal charges of siphoning millions from nearly 1,000 vulnerable or special needs clients whose finances, and in some cases, guardianships, were being handled by the nonprofit firm. Both had been released pending sentencing after posting their Tanoan home as security.

Susan Harris

More than 5,210 cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus have been reported in New Mexico as of Tuesday, with the state Department of Health reporting 17 cases of COVID-19 at the Otero County Prison.

Another 31 cases have been identified at a different Otero County facility.

Gorence said he’s been told that Harris, after her arrest in April, was initially detained in Oklahoma and was transported by U.S. marshals to a correctional facility in Otero County in southern New Mexico on May 1. Days later, on May 4, she was then taken to the Cibola correctional center.

A Journal call to the U.S. Marshals Office for more information about which facility Harris stayed at in Otero County wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health hasn’t reported any other cases at the Cibola detention center in Milan, where Harris is reportedly being treated.

Gorence said he has not spoken with Harris since she appeared at a federal court hearing in a Zoom conference call on May 7.

Harris, who was wearing a protective mask at the time, “complained to me she didn’t feel well,” he said.

She was also coughing, he added.

“At 73, she does have some physical conditions that would make her vulnerable to the virus,” Gorence said.

Congregate settings such as nursing homes, jails and prisons have been hot spots for virus outbreaks. The DOH reported a total of 49 cases at New Mexico detention centers as of Tuesday, including a new case at the Torrance County Detention Center.

Both Harris and her husband, William, were scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe on March 2 when they absconded. An attorney for William Harris didn’t respond to a Journal inquiry Tuesday about whether he has tested positive for the virus.

Susan Harris, her husband, and adult son Craig Young have pleaded guilty, along with former Ayudando Chief Financial Officer Sharon Moore, to participating in a decade-long scheme of fraud and money laundering.

Moore was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Susan Harris faces a minimum of 30 years to life in prison. Young’s sentencing is pending.

Federal prosecutors say the stolen funds were used to pay for a luxury lifestyle and were used to purchase homes, vehicles, luxury RVs and cruises, as well as a private box at the Pit at the University of New Mexico. The stolen funds were also used to pay off more than $4.4 million in American Express charges incurred by the defendants and their families.

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