Thursday, January 11, 2007
Former Red Cross Manager Admits Stealing Donations
LAS CRUCES A former manager of the American Red Cross office in Alamogordo has admitted stealing more than $120,000 in donations, some of which were intended for Hurricane Katrina victims.
Linda Vigil pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and swindles and one count of bank fraud. She admitted in court Wednesday that some of the money was used to pay her bills but most was used to gamble.
As part of a plea deal, U.S. Magistrate Lourdes Martinez put Vigil under house arrest and prohibited her from opening any new lines of credit or entering into any financial agreements.
''I'll tell you why,'' Martinez told Vigil. ''You've got a problem with money. You've got a problem with gambling.''
Vigil faces up to 70 years in prison and fines in excess of $1.5 million. But because she has cooperated with investigators and agreed to pay back the money, the U.S. attorney's office recommended her sentence be lessened.
She will be sentenced at a later date.
Vigil had worked as a manager in the Red Cross Alamogordo office 2003. It's part of the nonprofit's southwestern New Mexico chapter that serves Chaves, Dona Ana, Grant, Hidalgo, Lincoln, Luna, Otero and Sierra counties.
Vigil started stealing after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. She used a forged letter to open a bank account, which she used to cash checks written to the Red Cross.
Vigil cashed a $1,200 check given to the Red Cross by children of the Ruidoso school district who had organized a bake sale to raise money for Katrina victims. She also took $7,000 raised by Holloman Air Force Base personnel for hurricane victims.
Charles Woodward, executive director of the southwestern New Mexico Red Cross chapter in Las Cruces, said the stolen money contributed to a $50,000 shortfall that almost led to the closing of the Red Cross offices in Las Cruces last year.
Vigil's appointed attorney, Bernadette Sedillo of Las Cruces, said her client wants to accept responsibility for the crime. Sedillo said that before the thefts, Vigil had never been in trouble with the law.
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