SANTA FE – Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran could spend the holiday season behind bars after a district judge sentenced her Monday to 30 days in jail – plus nearly $28,000 in fines and restitution – for illegally diverting campaign donations to fuel a gambling addiction.
Duran, who resigned in October, and pleaded guilty to embezzling, money laundering and other charges, has until Wednesday to decide whether to withdraw her guilty plea, an option allowed by District Judge Glenn Ellington. If she opts not to withdraw the plea, Duran will have to report to the Santa Fe County jail on Friday morning to begin her 30-day sentence.
In a tearful address to the court, Duran asked Monday for forgiveness and leniency, saying, “I’m truly sorry.”
Her attorney said Duran’s gambling activity, which involved her spending thousands of dollars at casinos around New Mexico, gradually evolved over several years from entertainment to obsession to addiction.
However, the judge noted that Duran’s crimes could hurt public confidence in elected officials, while adding that many of her recent statements and court filings appeared to follow a familiar pattern of rationalization and excuses that he has seen among many addicts.
“The reason you are here is because you were entrusted by the people of New Mexico to enforce the campaign laws,” Ellington said. “Although you stole the money from these (political donors), the damage is much greater.”
He also denied a request from Duran’s attorney that Duran, who is raising three of her grandsons with her husband, not be required to report to jail until after the holidays.
Duran, 60, was accused by the Attorney General’s Office in August of using campaign money to cover gambling expenses at casinos across the state. Under the plea deal entered by Duran and the AG’s Office in October, Duran agreed to plead guilty to six charges – two felonies and four misdemeanors – of the 65 criminal counts she was facing. The rest were dismissed.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, in a statement released after Monday’s sentencing hearing, said his office will continue to “aggressively prosecute” public corruption in New Mexico.
“The swift adjudication of this matter rectifies the public harm done by the criminal conduct of Ms. Duran and saved tremendous taxpayer impeachment resources,” Balderas said. “The office of the attorney general thoroughly investigated the case, which resulted in felony convictions and jail time.”
Some New Mexicans have expressed anger at both Duran’s public statements and the handling of the case. Duran could have faced up to 8½ years in prison under the charges she pleaded guilty to, but the judge suspended most of her sentence.
During Monday’s hearing, several protesters held signs outside the 1st District Court in Santa Fe and criticized the judicial system, saying it was too easy on the former secretary of state.
“She did what every other politician has done to the state of New Mexico,” said Dinah Vargas of Albuquerque, as several fellow protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks stood nearby. “Under oath and under God, she swore to represent the people, and she didn’t do that.”
In addition to the 30-day jail sentence, Judge Ellington also imposed several stipulations on Duran that are aimed at having her interact with victims and state residents as part of a “restorative justice” punishment model.
Specifically, the judge ordered Duran to complete 2,000 hours of community service, write letters of apology to the citizens of New Mexico and the donors whose contributions she misused, and make four speeches per month for the next three years – or 144 in all – to schools and civic groups about her life, the crimes she committed, and the effect they’ve had on her and the state.
She will also have to continue attending counseling and therapy sessions for her gambling addiction, and will be barred from entering gambling establishments during a five-year probation period.
Restorative justice has not been widely used in New Mexico’s criminal justice system, but has been touted by some, including former Attorney General Gary King, as an efficient tool for dispatching cases. The model has been used more frequently in countries including Mexico and was a key component of the post-Apartheid South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The speaking requirements and the apology letter fall right in line with the concept of restorative justice,” said Duran’s attorney, Erlinda Johnson, “as it will compel Ms. Duran to address the New Mexico community about her life, her rise to power, her gambling disorder, her offenses and the steps she’s taking to address her disorder.”
She also said she and Duran were in discussions about whether to withdraw the guilty plea.
Meanwhile, several friends and former colleagues of Duran’s spoke during Monday’s hearing as character witnesses on her behalf.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, said Duran was an exemplary legislator before running for secretary of state, adding, “I would like to point out that she didn’t harm anybody but herself.”
“She didn’t take any taxpayer money – what she took was her own reputation,” Sharer said.
Duran, a Tularosa resident, became New Mexico’s first Republican secretary of state in 80 years when she was elected to the office in 2010.
A former Otero County clerk who also served for 18 years in the state Senate, Duran won re-election in 2014 by narrowly defeating her Democratic opponent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that she plans to appoint a new secretary of state this week. Whoever is appointed will serve as secretary of state until an election for the seat is held in November.
“I hope that we can move on from what has taken place, in a positive way,” Martinez told reporters after an Albuquerque news conference. “No one is above the law. And everyone should be treated equally under the law.”
Mary Quintana, a deputy secretary of state under Duran, has been serving as acting secretary of state for the past seven-plus weeks.
The former secretary of state has begun receiving her state pension benefits since resigning from office and will be able to keep getting pension checks despite her guilty plea.
Duran’s first monthly pension check of $4,857.56 was paid this month. The current value of Duran’s pension amounts to about $58,000 a year – and includes two of the three pension plans she’s eligible to receive.
AG Balderas has said his office was unable to target Duran’s pension because a high-profile 2012 public corruption law that was touted as a get-tough retirement forfeiture measure lacks teeth and needs to be strengthened.
Journal staff writer Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this report.