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Relationship of SNM ‘soldier,’ jail guard questioned

A 2018 post on Santana Bustamante’s Facebook page reports she is “in a relationship with Rufino Martinez.”

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

He was a self-professed “soldier” in the notorious Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang. She worked as a corrections officer at the Rio Arriba County Detention Center, where he was a prisoner.

The two became lovers. Whether they were partners in crime is still in dispute.

The SNM gang member, Jody Rufino Martinez, 41, is facing a life sentence after his conviction last month in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on charges of racketeering and committing a murder in 2008 to further the criminal enterprise of the SNM gang.

Santana Bustamante, meanwhile, is still employed at the Rio Arriba County jail after she was investigated by state and federal authorities for allegedly aiding and abetting a felon in possession of a firearm.

Specifically, she was accused in a search warrant affidavit of providing Martinez with a .40-caliber Glock that investigators believe was used in a 2018 shooting of one of his rivals – or allowed him to use it. That gun was never found.

Records also show Bustamante, 29, was investigated for allegedly helping inmates at her jail retaliate against the victim of that shooting in January 2019 after he recovered. She has denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation involved the FBI, the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office.

In November 2019, Bustamante received a target letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico notifying her she could be charged with aiding and abetting a felon in possession of a firearm.

But Bustamante has not been charged. She has no arrests or convictions. She couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

Jail guard’s testimony

During Martinez’s federal racketeering trial last month, federal prosecutors called Bustamante as a witness.

She testified that her supervisors at the jail know about the allegations against her, which she said are false. The fact she still has her corrections job is proof she did nothing wrong, she testified.

But the relationship itself concerned law enforcement investigators.

“The significance is he had been in jail … and that’s a problem. Jail staff and inmates can’t have physical relations. It is a violation of federal law,” lead FBI case agent Bryan Acee testified during the trial.”Guards and inmates having relations is like cops and crooks having relations. The investigation had a public corruption nexus because of the relationship.

“This also furthers that investigation … because it can make the gang stronger.”

The federal Prison Elimination Act criminalizes any sexual relationship between officials and inmates because inmates cannot legally give consent.

Bustamante was linked to Martinez as federal authorities began to investigate the SNM’s criminal activities in northern New Mexico in 2019, federal search warrant affidavits show.

A federal search warrant affidavit filed last year says that Martinez has at least 44 prior arrests in New Mexico and felony convictions for second-degree murder, aggravated battery, battery upon a peace officer and robbery.

Martinez, of Truchas, has described himself as a “soldier” in the 41-year-old SNM gang, which operates inside and outside prison walls. The FBI began looking into the gang as a criminal enterprise in 2015, when SNM leaders plotted to kill top state Corrections Department officials.

The FBI investigation in 2019 focused partly on an unsolved drug-related murder in Chimayó in 2008, in which Martinez’s name surfaced as one of the killers.

Investigators also wanted to know more about the October 2018 shooting of Donald Salazar at a residence in northern New Mexico – allegedly in retaliation for Salazar beating up Martinez while the two were previously held at the Rio Arriba jail in Tierra Amarilla.

Salazar was shot in his groin and recovered, and Martinez was charged in state court with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Investigators believe Bustamante provided or permitted Martinez to use her .40-caliber Glock in the shooting.

The FBI determined that Bustamante waited in a truck outside the residence while Martinez went inside and shot Salazar. She told investigators she heard no gunshots and didn’t know anything about Martinez using her firearm.

By January 2019, Salazar had landed back in the Rio Arriba jail where Bustamante worked.

There, he was assaulted by inmates, one of whom told the FBI that Bustamante “set up” the beating. Salazar told authorities he believed she instigated the attack by circulating a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office report in the jail saying that Salazar was cooperating with law enforcement in the aggravated assault case against Martinez.

She has denied furnishing paperwork or using her position as a jail employee to spur inmates to retaliate against Salazar.

Illicit relationship

In responding to a public records request, the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Santa Fe released some reports documenting the multi-agency investigation.

Those records and federal search warrant affidavits show that investigators in 2019 found intimate photos of Bustamante and Martinez on her cellphone.

Her Facebook page also showed the couple, in separate photos, under the heading, “In a relationship Rufino Martinez.”

That post was dated May 2018 – just weeks after Martinez was jailed at the Rio Arriba facility on a probation violation. He was held there for about five months.

Mary Ann Garcia, who works at the Rio Arriba jail, testified during Martinez’s federal trial that “fraternizing (with inmates) is against policy.”

“Getting real, real friendly, bringing in stuff, playing favorites (isn’t allowed). They are under our care, and that could create a security risk,” she said.

FBI agent Nancy Stemo wrote in a search warrant affidavit in October 2019, “I am aware the RACDC (Rio Arriba County Detention Center) administration was notified of the suspected romantic relationship between Bustamante and Martinez and potential drug trafficking as early as Sept. 2018.”

Stemo wrote that jail employees told the FBI that Bustamante entered Martinez’s cell alone on numerous occasions and provided him with outside food and that they spent time alone outside the view of surveillance cameras.

Moreover, a confidential informer said Martinez “bragged Bustamante was able to ‘run people’ and find out where they were living and if they had ‘snitched’ on anyone,” Stemo’s affidavit said.

Larry DeYapp, Rio Arriba County Detention Center administrator, “indicated he did not have enough information to terminate Bustamante,” Stemo stated in the affidavit.

There had been informal complaints by employees, but no formal complaints. And Bustamante told her supervisors that the romantic relationship began after Martinez was released in September 2018.

In an interview with the Journal last year, DeYapp said of the allegations, “It was investigated. There was no direct proof.”

Searching for weapon

On Oct. 25, 2019, a team of FBI and AG investigators executed search warrants on the residence Bustamante had shared with Martinez, her car and her father’s home. They were looking for evidence of their romantic involvement and the .40-caliber Glock firearm that witnesses said she carried in her purse.

Although .40 caliber ammunition was recovered, the gun was not.

The morning of the search, state and FBI investigators stopped Bustamante before she could get to her house.

She refused to answer questions about the firearm being sought, the SNM gang or other aspects of the FBI investigation, said one agent’s report. Bustamante did say she no longer was dating Martinez and “hoped to get into law enforcement and was in the testing process.”

After the search, Bustamante filed a police report saying that her .40-caliber pistol had been stolen.

The target letter she received a month later was introduced as evidence by Martinez’s defense during his trial.

The letter said the U.S. attorney was willing to “consider a pre-indictment disposition of those charges,” and if federal authorities didn’t hear from her, they could present her case to a grand jury, Martinez attorney Carter Harrison said during the trial.

Harrison said the government had made several overtures to Bustamante to cooperate in the investigation of Martinez. A federal court jury convicted Martinez of racketeering in the murder of David Romero in 2008 and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. He faces a life sentence.

While on the witness stand last month, Bustamante was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Castellano whether she wanted to get Martinez “in trouble.”

“I’d like to invoke my Fifth Amendment right (against self-incrimination),” she replied.

She testified that she mailed news articles to Martinez in jail about the FBI investigation because she wanted to “show him all the negativity that people see in me just for dating him.”

Castellano asked Bustamante about a letter seized as evidence that was in Martinez’s handwriting, telling Bustamante he loved her. “All I want to do is make you happy,” Martinez wrote.

Do you still have feelings for him? the prosecutor asked. “He’s a good friend,” she replied.

“Do you still love him?” Castellano asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ve been through a lot with him.”

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