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AG drops charges in housing authority corruption case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What was to have been a signature case of public corruption by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office ended with a whimper rather than a bang this week when charges were dismissed against the three remaining defendants.

“Nolle prosequi” pleadings were filed late Monday in the criminal cases against the former head of the now-defunct Region III Housing Authority and two attorneys and an accountant associated with it.

The case had been headed to a trial expected to last three weeks or longer before 2nd Judicial District Judge Ross Sanchez next month.

Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos, a former legislator who headed the housing authority, pleaded no contest to four misdemeanors including attempt to commit a felony/paying or receiving public money for services not rendered. He was given a one-year probationary sentence with conditional discharge in the plea agreement.

Gallegos had been charged with multiple felonies involving fraud, embezzlement and conspiracy in connection with bond funds for housing projects.

Bob Cooper, attorney for David Hernandez, the onetime Region III housing authority attorney, said his client had done nothing but represent his client and had done nothing wrong.

Billy Blackburn, who was defending bond attorney Robert Strumor, said Strumor had maintained his innocence from Day One.

“Finally, after six years, these cases have come to an end and he’s happy he can put this behind him and continue practicing law without this hanging over his head,” said Blackburn, who has amassed nine banker’s boxes of materials since the case was indicted in 2009.

Sam Bregman offered praise for the dismissals, including charges against his client Dennis Kennedy.

“I applaud the Attorney General’s Office for dismissing a case that should never have been brought in the first place,” Bregman said. “The government said we have no evidence of wrongdoing by my client and saw the light — a month before trial.”

Kennedy and Strumor had faced fraud and other charges. Hernandez had been charged with tampering with evidence.

Deputy Attorney General David Pederson said the office reviewed the cases since the Gallegos plea “and thought our ethical obligation was to dimiss them.”

 

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