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10-year sentence in tax case, overbilling

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Neither his good works with Boy Scouts and other charities nor his status as a first-time offender offset the seriousness of Joseph C. Kupfer’s crimes – stealing hundreds of thousands in federal Help America Vote Act money – and he was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.

That was the recommended time under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson found the term to be reasonable, based on the goals of punishment and deterrence.

Kupfer, 50, a onetime union official and lobbyist, is the last of three individuals to be sentenced in two separate but related criminal cases. One was tax evasion, for which he was tried with his wife, Elizabeth “Daisy” Kupfer. The other involved overbilling on contracts under the federal law enacted to help bring secretaries of state up to speed in voting technology and procedures.

Kupfer was convicted at trial in both cases and sentenced Wednesday in both on a total of seven counts. In the Help America Vote Act case that charged conspiracy to defraud the government, Armando Gutierrez, a 65-year-old political consultant in Corpus Christi, Texas, pocketed most of the $2.5 million that prosecutors Tara Neda and Jeremy Pena showed at trial in August 2012 the two had taken. Kupfer’s share in contracts, awarded by former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, was $746,375, and that was the amount of restitution set by Johnson. The Kupfers jointly owe $288,339 to the Internal Revenue Service for failing to report the income derived from the contracts.

Defense attorneys Billy Blackburn and Paul Linnenberger assailed the pre-sentence report as unduly favorable to the government and as failing to acknowledge other aspects of Kupfer’s character – his outreach through his Rio Rancho church, his work in scouting, his devotion as a husband and father.

While commendable, Johnson said, they are not extraordinary.

The judge, in announcing the sentence, noted that the crime involved a public official, the former secretary of state, whom he called an unindicted co-conspirator. It was her office that issued the contracts to Gutierrez and Kupfer.

Vigil-Giron, who now goes by Rebecca Vigil, was never charged in federal court, and the charges she faced in state court were dismissed based on speedy-trial problems.

Daisy Kupfer was sentenced in May to three years for tax evasion, and Gutierrez was sentenced in August to 10 years and ordered to forfeit his interest in his Corpus Christi home.

The criminal prosecution under HAVA is believed to be possibly the only such case in the country. It resulted from an audit by the Election Assistance Commission that began in 2007.