SANTA FE — Former New Mexico tax department head Demesia Padilla’s two felony convictions that stemmed from a lengthy public corruption investigation were vacated Friday by the New Mexico Court of Appeals on technical grounds.
In a split ruling, a panel of three judges said the criminal complaint that led to Padilla’s 2021 conviction of embezzlement and computer access with intent to defraud or embezzle — both felony offenses — was filed in Sandoval County after a statute of limitations to file charges had already expired.
The charges were initially filed several years earlier in Santa Fe County, where Padilla was employed as secretary of the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department, but were dismissed in 2019 by a judge who ruled the charges should have been filed in the county where the alleged crimes occurred.
The Court of Appeals’ ruling on Friday hinged largely on whether the five-year statute of limitations under state law should have been paused while charges were being refiled in another county.
Judge Megan Duffy dissented in the ruling, saying the time limit should been extended and that the charges were, in fact, filed in a timely manner.
But Judges Katherine Wray and Miles Hanisee said state legislators only intended the statute of limitations to be paused in limited circumstances.
Padilla, who was one of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s initial Cabinet appointees, resigned her position as Taxation and Revenue Department secretary in December 2016, a day after investigators with the Attorney General’s Office raided the tax department in search of 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 AG’s office.
After a long legal saga that included charges being dismissed and later refiled, Padilla was eventually convicted and was sentenced in September 2021 to five years of probation but no prison time.
Her case, along with several other cases, also prompted a state Supreme Court ruling last year that found certain sections of the state’s Governmental Conduct Act that applies to public officials were never intended by legislators to be enforced as criminal statutes.
While current Attorney General Raul Torrez could appeal the Friday ruling, Padilla’s attorney Paul Kennedy lauded the Court of Appeals’ decision.
“We’re grateful for the court’s opinion,” Kennedy told the Journal. “Demesia has been waiting for a long time for vindication on this issue.”