Former NM tax secretary gets probation for 2 felony convictions

Former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla talks to her attorney, Paul Kennedy, in this file photo during her July 2018 arraignment in Santa Fe. Padilla was recently sentenced to five years of probation after being convicted of embezzlement and another criminal offense. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Former New Mexico tax department head Demesia Padilla will face five years of probation but no prison time under a sentence handed down last week by a Sandoval County judge.

Padilla, who resigned her position in former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration amid a public corruption investigation, was convicted by a jury in June of embezzlement and computer access with intent to defraud or embezzle – both felony offenses.

She faced up to 18 years in prison under the two charges, but District Judge Cindy Mercer suspended all prison time for Padilla and imposed five years of supervised probation.

During that time, Padilla will be barred from drinking alcohol and selling or owning firearms. She will also have to complete 200 hours of community service in the coming year and pay more than $25,000 in restitution to the Bernalillo family she was accused of embezzling money from while she was a Cabinet secretary.

Despite the sentencing, the lengthy legal saga involving Padilla might not be over.

That’s because five of the eight initial charges filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office against Padilla were dismissed by a Santa Fe judge in 2019.

The state Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of those charges last year, ruling that the section of the state’s Governmental Conduct Act they were filed under was too vague to support criminal charges.

But that decision could be reviewed, and Balderas called on state lawmakers in a statement Monday to tighten the state’s public corruption laws.

“We successfully secured a felony conviction in a jury trial, yet remain disappointed that corruption loopholes in the law have not been corrected by the Legislature,” Balderas said.

Padilla, one of Martinez’s first Cabinet appointees, resigned her position as Taxation and Revenue Department secretary in December 2016, a day after AG’s Office investigators raided the agency in search of tax documents connected with Padilla and her husband. About 18 months later, she was charged with embezzlement and public corruption.

Authorities alleged she embezzled more than $25,000 from Harold’s Grading & Trucking, a company that had been a client of her accounting firm, through unauthorized fund transfers and later used her state government position to try to prevent the company from being audited.

The investigation into Padilla’s actions was launched by then-Auditor Tim Keller, who is now Albuquerque’s mayor, and was eventually referred to the Attorney General’s Office.

Paul Kennedy, Padilla’s attorney, did not respond Monday to questions about the sentencing.

Meanwhile, the corruption case against Padilla was the latest in a string of ethics scandals involving New Mexico public officials that resulted in convictions.

Former state Sen. Phil Griego, a Democrat from rural San Miguel County, was sentenced in 2017 to 18 months in prison and more than $47,000 in fines after being convicted of fraud, bribery and other public corruption charges.

And former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, resigned from office in 2015 and pleaded guilty to illegally using campaign contributions to fuel a gambling habit. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and was ordered to pay $28,000 in fines and restitution.

Meanwhile, the AG’s Office and FBI continue to investigate an alleged kickback scheme involving former House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque, who has resigned from the Legislature. No charges have been filed, and she has denied any wrongdoing.

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