Prosecutors have charged former Northern New Mexico College financial services director Henrietta Trujillo with embezzlement, more than two years after she admitted to stealing money from the school.
A criminal information filed Friday in state District Court in Santa Fe accuses Trujillo, 63, with one count of embezzlement for taking just under $82,000 from the Espanola-based college between 2012 and 2014.
A New Mexico State Police report said school officials in 2017 reported about $200,000 was unaccounted for, including about $82,000 in cash and checks totaling about $167,000.
Trujillo admitted stealing and spending the cash, according to the report, and said she had kept checks in her closet that were supposed to have been deposited along with the cash.
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office said in an email Monday an outside accounting firm determined the checks were never cashed.
The police report said Trujillo, who had retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2006 after working there for 29 years, told police she took the school’s money because she had financial problems, including having her wages garnished for unpaid state taxes and having to help pay for cancer treatments for her mother and sister.
Trujillo denied having a gambling problem, despite police having verified that she spent more than $500,000 at area casinos during the approximately 10-year period she worked for the college, the report said.
“She said in looking back, she had kept track of the amounts because she knew that eventually, she would have to answer for where the money had gone if she could not pay the money back,” according to the report.
Neither Trujillo nor David Serna, an Albuquerque lawyer who is referred to in police records as Trujillo’s attorney, responded to messages seeking comment Monday.
Online court records show Trujillo waived her right to have the evidence against her heard by a grand jury or in a preliminary hearing before a judge. A plea hearing is set for August.
An accounting firm hired by the college concluded last spring that the school needed a culture change to address a plethora of money management problems.
“Despite being a post-secondary education institution, NNMC has a culture that does not appear to value accountability or, oddly in education, among the accounting and finance staff in particular,” McHard Accounting Consulting said in a report to college President Richard Bailey. “We saw this problem mirrored throughout the entity.”
Bailey said in a voice message Monday, “The college has moved forward on this and put mechanisms in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again. As far as the specifics of the plea deal with Mrs. Trujillo, we will leave that to the District Attorney and our government officials to make that decision.”
A spokesman for District Attorney Marco Serna declined in an email Monday to provide specifics regarding the agreement.
According to state statute, embezzlement of $20,000 or more is a second-degree felony punishable by up nine years in prison, but Serna’s office has a track record of striking plea deals with first-time fraud and embezzlement defendants which favor probation and restitution over jail time.
“A first-time, nonviolent offender is not going to get prison time, nor should they get prison time,” Serna said during a discussion of the topic last summer, adding that imprisoning defendants charged in cases involving the theft of money makes it virtually impossible for them to pay restitution.
“We want victims to be made whole,” Serna said. “That’s a priority. If they [offenders] violate, then we are obviously going to go after them on a probation violation. But my hope is that they recognize what they did was wrong. They pay their restitution and move on with a productive lifestyle.”