DA under investigation

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Police detectives believe they have probable cause to file felony charges against District Attorney Kari Brandenburg for violating the state law prohibiting bribery and intimidation of a witness in connection with burglary cases involving her 26-year-old son, Justin Koch.

For the last year, detectives have been investigating Brandenburg for her role in contacting victims in two burglaries and a larceny in which her son was a suspect – cases that involve thousands of dollars in property, including a 9mm Smith & Wesson.

In late November, APD forwarded its lengthy case file to the state Attorney General’s Office for review and any recommendations regarding the charges.

The letter to the AG’s Office from Detective David Nix said the extensive investigation “supports there is probable cause” that the bribery and witness intimidation statutes had been violated. Because it involves a member of the District Attorney’s Office, Nix said, APD has not been able to consult with local prosecutors.

The Journal obtained the APD report on Justin Koch and Kari Brandenburg through an Inspection of Public Records Act request but personal information was redacted. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)
The Journal obtained the APD report on Justin Koch and Kari Brandenburg through an Inspection of Public Records Act request but personal information was redacted. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The Journal obtained the reports Thursday in response to a request made under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act. The city redacted or removed identifying information such as Social Security numbers and sealed search warrant affidavits from the file.

In one burglary case, the victims gave written statements to police saying Brandenburg contacted them and agreed to reimburse them for the items her son took in the burglary if they didn’t tell police about Koch’s involvement.

In the larceny case, Brandenburg was involved in conversations and email arranging for the couple to get reimbursement for a handgun they believe Koch had stolen and then sold on Craigslist. The couple received a check for $800 drawn on Koch’s trust account.

Attorney General Gary King’s spokesman Phil Sisneros said Friday that he couldn’t comment on the report at this time.

Albuquerque attorney Peter Schoenburg, known for criminal defense and civil rights work, responded to Journal requests for comment sent to Brandenburg and to her office.

“Ms. Brandenburg knew nothing about this report until today (Friday), although it had already been released to the newspaper,” he told the Journal. “When we have had a chance to read it, we will have more to say. Kari has always conducted herself in a moral, ethical and transparent manner during her 14 years as District Attorney. Her integrity is beyond reproach. She has never deviated from this, in either her professional or personal life.”

Justin Koch is facing criminal charges in other larceny cases but has not been charged in the cases detailed in the report obtained by the Journal. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Losses in burglary recovered

In October 2013, APD burglary detectives were tracking a man they believed was a “serial burglar” when they contacted Ryan Sena and Shane Anaya about the July burglary of their Northeast Heights home.

But Sena and Anaya had a different story to tell than police expected, pointing a finger at their former friend Justin Koch, the son of District Attorney Brandenburg through her marriage to the late criminal defense attorney Ron Koch.

Justin Koch had been with Sena and Anaya during the day but failed to meet them that July evening when the burglary occurred.

Based on Koch’s statements to friends (who were later interviewed by detectives), Sena and Anaya believed Koch had stolen an X-box and other items worth more than $1,000 from their home.

“I told Kari over the phone we had proof Justin broke in our home,” Ryan Sena said in a written statement to police. “She then asked if I had called the police yet. That I told yes, just to dust for prints. She then said if I don’t call the police she would reimburse us for what was taken.”

Anaya’s statement said that “Kari also contacted Ryan Sena asking us not to press charges and that she would pay us the amount of everything Justin took.”

Sena said he and Brandenburg communicated through email and Facebook.

“We talked about writing up everything that was stolen and would reimbursed. I dropped off the list of stolen items. She then called me said she can’t afford it to pay us back. So we were left screwed.”

Sena described himself as a childhood friend of Koch’s and told police that Koch had a drug habit. Other witnesses told police Koch was addicted to heroin.

Koch has not been charged with drug offenses but is awaiting trial on felony and misdemeanor larceny charges.

Sena said he wrote about the burglary on Facebook and heard from others that Koch had stolen from other friends including Andrew and Victoria Barros, who said they were victims.

Detectives interviewed the Barros couple and found they had been victimized twice.

In April 2013, they were away from home on a trip when more than $10,000 of electronics and jewelry was stolen from their home.

Koch lived with the Barros for 18 to 24 months, and Andrew Barros suspected Koch staged the burglary because a month earlier they found him stealing some cash. He was never charged with any crime in reference to the theft of cash allegation.

Koch continued to live with the Barros couple until July, when they believe he stole a handgun from their bedroom.

After the handgun was stolen, Andrew Barros tried to contact Koch unsuccessfully and finally contacted Kari Brandenburg via Facebook about the theft.

She called Andrew Barros and according to the police report, “Kari expressed great concern for Justin and his addiction to illegal narcotics. She also seemed concerned for Andrew and Victoria’s well being and asked Andrew if he had reported the handgun stolen. When Andrew told Kari that he had, Kari told Andrew ‘Good you want to protect yourself on that end…’.”

Barros told detectives that Brandenburg advised him on having Koch evicted.

She then asked him, according to the report, how much the handgun cost as well as the insurance deductible Andrew Barros paid for the April 30 burglary and offered to reimburse him for both.

After several weeks of dealing with Brandenburg about the stolen gun, Barros began dealing with Koch’s aunt Deborah Manchester about repayment for the handgun and holster.

He said he received a check from Manchester for $800 drawn on Koch’s trust account.

According to detectives, Barros said after receiving the check he was satisfied with the outcome.

Barros told police that Brandenburg never told him she would pay for the gun and the insurance deductible if they did not pursue criminal charges against Koch.

When asked about Brandenburg’s involvement, Barros told detectives, “I guess it is an old school train of thought, I mean a wrong was righted.”

The records show a search warrant was served seeking information from Brandenburg’s personal Facebook account but the affidavit laying out grounds for the warrant was removed from the records produced by APD in response to the Journal’s IPRA request because it is still sealed.

DA reviews APD shootings

Brandenburg’s office reviews the criminal investigations into officer-involved shootings and decides whether to file criminal charges against the officer.

Now in her fourth term as the county’s top prosecutor, she has never charged an officer for his or her role in a police shooting.

At a press conference in November, Brandenburg said she was reviewing the police shooting of the James Boyd case herself. Boyd, a mentally ill camper, was shot by APD Detective Keith Sandy and officer Dominique Perez in the Sandia foothills in March.

At the press conference she said her office was expecting to complete its review of several officer-involved shootings by Christmas.

An attorney speaking for Brandenburg says she was not aware of the APD investigation report.

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