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Former CEO of pueblo corporation sentenced to 51 months in federal prison

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The onetime executive officer of the Indian Pueblos Federal Development Corp., Bruce Sanchez, was sentenced Wednesday to 51 months in federal prison for embezzlement of more than $3.5 million from the company he headed for eight years.

Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo rejected sentencing enhancements advocated by the corporation, including an argument that there were more than 250 victims because all 19 New Mexico pueblos – and the impoverished pueblo members who stood to benefit from the corporation’s work – were all victims.

“This is not a victimless or trivial crime,” Isleta Gov. E. Paul Torres, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, told the judge. He said Sanchez’s betrayal of trust had taken an emotional as well as a financial toll.

Mike Canfield, the corporation’s current president, said he has spent the past five years dealing with the aftermath of Sanchez’s mismanagement and theft. He said the corporation calculates the crimes cost the pueblos about $20 million besides the actual amount embezzled and the lost opportunities – in part of lawsuits filed against the corporation. As detailed in a court filing, there were costs for overfinancing, settlement of lawsuits, legal fees, and uncollected lease amounts.

The corporation was set up to develop lands of the old Albuquerque Indian School. Sanchez headed it from 2003 until he was removed as CEO in 2010. Two buildings were constructed to house the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but that was where development ended.

The pueblo corporation wanted time added to Sanchez’s potential sentence under federal guidelines of 63 to 78 months, but Armijo went even lower. Without elaborating on the details of her decision, she said it was because of “the personal history and characteristics of this defendant.”

In January, both Sanchez and his co-defendant, Thomas Keesing, entered guilty pleas to portions of the indictment including, in Sanchez’s case, nonpayment of more than $655,000 in federal income tax. They also agreed that the loss to the corporation, and restitution jointly owed, was $3,575,000.

Keesing has not yet been sentenced.

Sanchez addressed the court before Armijo imposed the sentence, saying he now gets food stamps because of his greatly diminished income as a math teacher.

“Nobody cared about this corporation,” he said. Sanchez alleged political corruption at the tribal level, said he had pleaded with unnamed agencies to come in and investigate and said many people at his own Pueblo of Santa Ana – where he has been governor – “are walking around thoroughly guilty of crime.” The corporation was not the only entity, and he was not the only person, involved in crime, he said, arguing that tribes need a more “check and balance” system.

“We hide behind sovereignty,” he said, “and when it doesn’t go our way we turn to the federal government.”

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