SANTA FE, N.M. — This story has been corrected. An earlier version said that Santa Fe police Lt. Jason Wagner and Espanola Cpl. Solomon Romero had been indicted by a grand jury. In fact, the charges they face were filed in criminal information documents by District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco. Under this process, there is typically a preliminary hearing where a judge determines if there is “probable cause” to take the charges to trial.
Santa Fe police officer who resigned amid allegations of falsifying timecards but was later rehired when Police Chief Eric Garcia came on board last summer has been charged with four felony counts.
The charges for “paying/receiving public money for services not rendered” were in a criminal information filed this week against Lt. Jason Wagner by Santa Fe District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco.
Wagner has been with the department about 16 years, except for a few months last year after he was confronted with the timecard fraud allegations by former Santa Fe Chief Ray Rael.
The criminal information includes few details, but does say the incidents for which Wagner is charged took place between Oct. 1 and Nov. 29, 2013. That covers most of the period during which a GPS device had been hidden on Wagner’s patrol car to monitor his whereabouts as part of an internal investigation by then-chief Rael.
Also this week, a former high-ranking Española police officer who worked under Garcia while Garcia was police chief in that city was charged with embezzlement by Pacheco.
Cpl. Solomon Romero, who left the Espanola police recently, is accused of embezzling or converting to his own use two cases of .40 caliber Smith & Wesson Full Metal Jacket bullets valued at $412.
Romero has been under investigation for allegedly trading police shooting range ammunition for T-shirts from an Española graphics shop, possibly with police department logos printed on the shirts.
Romero said “all this came up” a few days after he filed a hostile work environment complaint against Espanola Deputy Police Chief Miguel Maez. “Enough is enough,” said Romero said.
Romero’s criminal information document says the ammo embezzlement is alleged to have taken place between June and September 2013. Garcia still was serving as chief of the Española police at that time and was hired as Santa Fe chief in June 2014.
On Friday, Garcia said through a SFPD spokeswoman that he was not aware of any criminal activity occurring at the Española Police Department while he was chief.
In the same statement, Garcia did not directly respond to a request for comment regarding the allegations against Wagner, other than to say that Wagner would remain on “alternative duty,” with no contact with the public, a status he’s been on since August of last year.
Garcia rehired Wagner shortly after he became chief and intended to make Wagner a captain until controversy erupted over the time card fraud alleged by former chief Rael.
GARCIA: Intended to make Wagner a captain
Later on Friday, the SFPD issued another short statement to the Journal that read, “Chief Garcia has given direction to his personnel that the Santa Fe Police Department will continue to work with our peers at the First Judicial District Attorney’s office.”
Pacheco declined comment. Efforts by the Journal to reach Wagner were unsuccessful.
Under the criminal information process, charges typically go to a judge for a preliminary hearing. The judge determines if there is “probable cause,” based on the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, for the case to proceed to trial.
For district attorneys, charging defendants via the criminal information process is an alternative to seeking indictments from a grand jury. The Journal, in the original version of this story, incorrectly reported that Wagner and Romero had been indicted.
Got Santa Fe job back
According to Santa Fe police, Wagner was hired by the department in 1998 and resigned in January 2014 amid the allegations of payroll fraud.
Ex-chief Rael had ordered the GPS device placed on Wagner’s patrol car from Oct. 1 to Nov. 19, 2013, due to concerns that Wagner was at home or at other non-work-related locations while he was supposed to be on duty.
Wagner asked for his old job back after Garcia was picked to replace Rael, who resigned in March following last year’s city elections.
Before rehiring Wagner in July, Garcia retained a private investigator to conduct a “limited inquiry” into Wagner’s resignation to help determine whether Wagner was eligible for re-employment.
he case had tinges of internal police department politics. During the inquiry, Wagner told H&H Private Investigators that, in having to deal with the timecard fraud allegations, he “may have been targeted by SFPD administration” because Rael thought Wagner was too sympathetic to the police officers’ union.
Rael told the Journal last August that he was never contacted by the investigative firm. He called Garcia’s rehiring of Wagner a mistake and said the hidden GPS indicated Wagner “was spending a substantial amount of time away from work when he was scheduled for work.”
The H&H report said that the data from the GPS device “did contain questionable entries concerning lunch breaks and Wagner’s location around the end of his shift times.”
But the report noted that there was a lack of “any information concerning the circumstances of those days and entries such as what Wagner’s assignment was that day, whether or not he had permission to ‘flex’ his work hours or whether he may have been working from home on administrative duties.” Wagner has a home address in the town of Bernalillo north of Albuquerque, according to his indictment.
Wagner told the private investigator that he sometimes met with officers at restaurants for longer than the 30-minute lunch break because it was “more efficient” than bringing an officer into the office and that he sometimes performed administrative duties, such as writing reports, while at home. Wagner was quoted last year as saying he’d been working from home on confidential cases involving other officers.
According to the city’s website, Wagner makes $38.63 per hour, or more than $80,000 a year.