Clarification appended

Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a politician from a tiny town who won a statewide office on the promise that she would end corruption and run an honest office, could go to jail for 30 days for embezzling money from campaign donors to feed her addiction to gambling.

Fearing jail time, Duran sobbed Monday as she asked state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington, of Santa Fe to be lenient with her. Ellington said some of Duran’s crimes violated the public’s trust and that demanded “restorative justice.” He sentenced her to jail, even though the state attorney general had not sought incarceration for Duran. But Ellington also suspended all but a month of the seven-and-one-half years of incarceration that Duran could have faced on her convictions for two felonies and four misdemeanors.

Along with the jail term, Ellington fined Duran $14,000, ordered her to pay another $13,866 in restitution and required her to place ads in six publications across the state in which she would apologize to the people of New Mexico for her crimes. Duran would be on supervised probation for five years, and she would have to perform 2,000 hours of community service.

Duran, 60, has the option of rejecting the sentence because Ellington imposed jail time. If she does, her plea bargain with the state Attorney General’s Office would be voided, and she once again would face all of the original 65 criminal counts against her.

Duran has until Wednesday to decide whether she will accept the sentence.

In her plea bargain with Attorney General Hector Balderas’ staff, Duran pleaded guilty to stealing campaign donations and doctoring state campaign reports to cover up her embezzlement. The crimes started in 2010, when Duran became the first Republican since 1928 to be elected as secretary of state, according to Balderas’ investigators.

But Duran’s lawyer, Erlinda Johnson, stated in a letter to the judge that Duran’s crimes began after unspecified tragedies in her family in 2012 and 2013. Johnson described Duran as a gambling addict who was preyed upon by casinos that offered her lines of credit to keep her hooked.

Johnson previously had apologized on behalf of Duran and said that Duran was remorseful. For her part, Duran had declared that none of her crimes affected the operations of the Secretary of State’s Office or involved taxpayers’ money. In her brief statement to the judge Monday, Duran for the first time publicly said she was sorry.

“I apologize to the people of New Mexico, to my family and my friends,” she said. “And I’m truly sorry. I would just ask this court for forgiveness and leniency.” Duran was weeping so hard that she barely could get out the words.

If she accepts the sentence, she will have to report to the Santa Fe County jail on Friday. She would be released in the middle of January. The judge denied a request that Duran be allowed to begin her sentence after the Christmas holidays.

Before he announced Duran’s sentence, Ellington said restorative justice “goes beyond simple punishment and simple mercy.” Her high profile as the state official in charge of election laws set her apart from most defendants, the judge said.

Duran’s rise in politics was as steady as her conservatism, in which she supported longer sentences for criminals. From her hometown of Tularosa, population 3,000, Duran won election as the Otero County clerk, then as a state senator and finally as secretary of state.

Ellington said he took her career into account when he decided on her punishment. As part of her sentence, Duran would have to speak to school and civic groups four times a month for the next three years about her life, her gambling addiction and her betrayal of the the public’s trust.

She would also have to be under electronic monitoring for at least two years to make sure she doesn’t go to casinos or racetracks. Ellington sentenced her to three years of monitoring but said she could request to be taken off the surveillance system at the end of two years if she has obeyed all court orders.

Another part of the sentence would be require her to write letters of apology to her campaign contributors whose checks she embezzled for personal use. Those letters would have to be hand-delivered, Ellington said. This would be in addition to her having to buy ads in at least six newspapers around the state to apologize for her crimes.

No mention was made at the hearing of Duran’s government pensions. The Legislature approved a law in 2012 that allows judges to impose fines equal to pensions. But Balderas in negotiating the plea deal, did not go after Duran’s pension, claiming the law was vague.

The $14,000 fine imposed by Ellington is about equal to three months of the pension Duran currently receives.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, has said he will introduce a bill next month that would prohibit any state official convicted of corruption-related felonies from receiving any state pension.

As a convicted felon, Duran, who frequently used to talk about the value of every vote, would lose her voting privileges for at least five years. In New Mexico convicted felons lose their voting rights but can apply to have those rights restored after successfully completing all conditions of their sentence, including parole and probation.

Balderas issued a statement after the hearing saying “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.”

A special investigative committee of the state House of Representatives had been studying an impeachment proceeding against Duran. That effort ended in October when she resigned from office and then pleaded guilty to six of the 65 charges.

Several of Duran’s friends spoke at the hearing, asking Ellington to be merciful. Among them was state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington. He told Ellington that, although he is “known as a tough-on-crime legislator,” he believes Duran should be spared from harsh punishment. Duran, Sharer said, “didn’t hurt anyone but herself … and she’s already paid a high price for that.”

Sharer and Duran served together in the Senate before voters elected her as secretary of state in 2010. They re-elected her last year

In announcing his sentence, Ellington disagreed with the notion that Duran’s crimes were victimless.

He said that two of the counts to which Duran pleaded — making an illegal campaign expenditure and filing incorrect information on a campaign report — were different from her crimes of embezzlement and money laundering.

“The harms associated in these two crimes is also public in nature,” he said. “It affects public confidence in their elected officials individually and also in the offices they hold.… Although you stole the money from these individuals, the damage it created is much broader. … You are here because you were trusted by public to enforce campaign laws.”

Ellington said that campaign finance laws create rights for the public. “The public in exercising its civic responsibility of electing public officials has the right to know where the money comes from,” he said. Ellington added that there are limits on how candidates can spend campaign money.

“There’s actually a list. Personal expenses and gambling debts are not on that list,” the judge said.

Ellington said that, as a judge in criminal cases, he deals all the time with people who have addictions — alcohol, drugs and gambling.

“I’ve been concerned about your statements and even when I read your letter I was concerned because it sounded very familiar,” he said. “Many of your statements follow a pattern of rationalization, an excuse that I hear from many addicts. … They minimize the effect [addiction] has on them personally and they minimize the effect it has on everyone else around them.”

After the hearing, a small group of protesters — some of them wearing Guy Fawkes masks, associated in recent years with the Occupy Wall Street movement — gathered outside the courthouse. They expressed their anger over Duran’s sentence. A woman waving a New Mexico flag shouted that Duran was a “degenerate gambler” who deserved a prison term.

The position of secretary of state has been vacant since Duran resigned Oct. 23. According to a report by The Associated Press, Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday during a news conference in Albuquerque that she will announce by the end of the week her choice for Duran’s replacement. That person will serve in the office through the general election in November 2016.

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com or 986-3037.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said Duran, if she accepts the judge's sentence, would lost her right to vote. That is true, but this state allows convicted felons to apply for reinstatement of voting rights after successfully completing probation and other conditions of his or her sentence. This has been reflected in the text.

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(31) comments

Roger Schwarz

I commend the judge for imposing a jail term in this case and for requiring the defendant to begin serving it before the holidays. The appearance of justice is as important as justice itself and in this case, a felony conviction arising out of an abuse of public trust required that some time be served--swiftly, to restore the public's trust in government. Although I do not doubt that Ms. Duran presented compelling mitigating factors to the court, which the court considered, mitigation has its limits and a lesser sentence would have bred cynicism and distrust in the public eye. It gives me little comfort or pleasure to know that Ms. Duran is in jail for the holidays. But the scope of her conduct and the fact that it was not just an aberration demanded nothing less.

Devin Bent

Balderas has failed us. The punishment is too light; 30 days in jail (if she actually serves it) followed by a generous pension is simply not a deterrent to crime.

Stephen Fox

The State's statutes do not allow seizing or even taking part of the pension. The A.G. can't do what isn't in the law. He is asking for more teeth in the revised statute if the Legislature will concur starting in about one month. Ask your legislator to support such an effort, if you want to get involved in a significant way.

Peter Romero

We should feel the same when dems go to court.

Megan Drake

I believe elected officials should be held to a HIGHER standard than the general public. Her jail time of 30 days is nothing but a slap on the wrist for the crimes she has committed. It insults al New Mexicans who are held to the laws. Duran deserves MORE jail time!

Peter Romero

I hope the AG goes after all of the referrals that Duran sent to him for campaign shenanigans. That would truly send a message to politicians.

Peter Romero

I feel that the sentence fit the crime. I would have felt different if she actually stole public monies.

john ramirez

how hilarious, she only stole other peoples money, not the public's!

Stan McDaniel

Duran's sentence amounts to a 3 year twelve-step program for gambling addiction to be carried out in public, which is likely to drive a narcissistic egomaniac like Duran crazy. It's better than a 3 year prison sentence, with the added bonus that the short 30 day jail stint will remind her of what awaits if she strays from the deal. Brilliant!

That she keeps her pension bothers me a lot, but her felony record apparently will not be expunged upon completion of probation, which is appropriate = no voting, no firearms, etc.

It's a balanced deal and a vast improvement over the bouquet of roses plea deal which Balderas handed Duran. Well done, Judge Ellington. Let's see if Duran is wise enough to take it.

Joseph Hempfling

I watched most of todays LiveStreaming court happenings and like what I heard; the concept of 'restorative justice" and would like to see it applied to everyone. Studies have shown jail for the sake of jail simply doesn't work and is a waste of our tax paying monies. Rehabilitation does. Keep in mind it costs you and me close to $40-50K to incarcerate an inmate for one year and we get nothing for our money and they get free room and board ! And was quite impressed i might add on Judge Ellington's demeaner, thoughtfulness and willingness to go out of his way to explain to us laymen and women, what he was doing and why. And all things considered Duran got a fair yet firm deal in my opinion.

Leesa Vigil

I listened to about half of Judge Ellington's ruling and I agree with you. I thought his judgment was fair and reasonable. While I believe that it's appropriate for Duran to do some jail time, I also value the role of restorative justice. It's a sad day for New Mexico.

Cate Moses

Disgusting. If we ever get to vote against retaining Judge T. Glenn Ellington on the bench, let's remember this. He may as well have shouted it out with a bullhorn: Crooked politicians: come to New Mexico and get your free, no-strings attached campaign funds to use for your own personal gain. She even gets a pension, paid for by us, the taxpayers. We will be paying this low-life thief until she croaks. I wonder how much per month will be coming out of our pockets. Will we be paying her legal fees as well? How long until she surfaces in some fluff political job as a double dipper? And she wasn't even asked to repay most of the tens of thousands she stole. Of course if she were a 15 year old living in poverty who stole a bottle of booze from a store she'd get 5 years at least.

Stephen Fox

Cate:There is only so much a judge can do if the prosecutor doesn't ask for more. I personally respect Ellington's decision, and so perhaps would you if you understand the judicial parameters and limitations. He got 30 days for her, when the AG didn't ask for anytime. The State's statutes do not allow seizing or even taking part of the pension. The A.G. is asking for more teeth in the revised statute if the Legislature will concur starting in about one month. Ask your legislator to support such an effort, if you want to get involved in a significant way.

Stephen Fox

I think this sentence is appropriate. What is significant here is that by sentencing her to 30 days in jail, the Honorable Judge Glenn Ellington went beyond what the Attorney General wanted (no jail time), and the accompanying conditions are quite stringent and will ultimately do good for society and New Mexico in general. This restores a lot of my faith in the Judiciary in New Mexico. I have always respected Judge Ellington in the Jurisprudential sense.

Dr. Michael Johnson

I think this is fine, if it were me I would rather do jail time than go out and spend three years speaking to people about what a weak crumb, idiot, and criminal I am. But I do think the casinos needed to be more visible as to their responsibility and culpability in these crimes. They always aid and abet gambling addictions, no matter who it is, the judge should have publicly pointed out their role in this scandal too. They are also a reason NM is America's third world state.

John McAndrew

I approve of the sentence, and I'm a staunch Democrat. Jail time is not the only response to crimes, even high crimes of betrayal of trust such as this. I'm relieved that the judge gave jail time, but the community service, the hand-delivered letters, etc, is all poetic and, as he said, restorative justice.

My whole life I've seen people in power betraying trust: Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Catholic pedophilia scandal, trigger-happy cops, the tobacco and fossil fuel industries lying to make profit off of great bodily harm, Enron and Fannie May, Savings and Loan, and on and on, ad nauseum. The irony and tragedy is that Ms. Duran ran on a platform of restoring trust.

And yes, as someone noted, she apparently gets to retain her pensions (plural). The state legislature ought to do something about that in the next session – especially its GOP members, who have been ill-served by their Party member and who always say they want fiscal responsibility.

Bill Weldon

dead on!

Andrew Lucero

What a joke. And an even sorrier excuse for a judge... For all of Ellington's grandstanding and tough talk over the last month, when it came time for him to walk the walk and back up his words, he folded like a shirt... I hope you all remember this come election day and vote NOT TO RETAIN him.

2016 can be a pivotal year for law and order in our city. Thankfully, Spence is gone. Now it's incumbent upon us to clean up the rest of the Judiciary...Vote not to retain ANY of the judges in the First Judicial District... It's long past time that we threw the lot of them out.

Dan Chase

You guys are crazy! Why in the word would you want to have this lady in prison? Meanwhile all the drug addicted burglars and robbers get chance after chance with probation and drug court blah blah blah, thats the joke. Duran was at least a good person besides this mistake not a repeat drug addicted criminal. What you people on here want is blood no matter who it is as long as its a public figure i think you guys just pleasure in seeing someone go thru hard times. She made a mistake but didnt commit some violent crime. Ill let you all get back to living your perfect lives since you must be without any faults.

Andrew Lucero

I agree with much of what you are saying Dan... It makes me sick that career criminals don't even get 30 days in jail. They walk away with just a slap on the wrist time and time again. Like Duran, most of them have addictions and are also non-violent offenders. But that doesn't mean they all don't deserve jail time. Not punishing people for their crimes is why we have such a high rate of recidivism here. And it's a direct result of judges failing to do their jobs.

Duran violated her office and the public trust. So for that alone, she should have to serve some jail time. (I think a year would be reasonable. It certainly is not excessive)... But the thing that makes me most angry about Duran's sentence is that she gets to keep her pension...That is the single biggest outrage here. The loss of your pension is the main deterrent to the crime. Not taking her pension tells all the other corrupt politicians that they can keep on doing what they are doing, because there are no significant consequences for their criminal activities.

Stephen Fox

I really find no fault with Ellington. His conditions are quite onerous and stringent, and ultimately, will do more good for New Mexico to have her writing articles and so on, to prove the damage done by predatory gambling. On the contrary, I think his decision proves that he should be retained, and even go on to higher judicial posts, like the Supreme Court when it has a vacancy, but Ellington, like the former Judge Bruce Kaufman is the kind of Judge who feels he does more good in the courtroom directly with convicted defendants, more than in some lofty tower deciding minute points in the interpretation of our laws.

Carolyn DM

[thumbup] Great points on the low-life druggie punks who steal people's stuff due to their sense of entitlement only to get a slap on the wrist so they can go out and continue doing what they do best. Not to mention the repeat DWIers.

Scott Smart

Guess since her pension is not mentioned she gets to keep it?

Scott Smart

I am familiar with an "ordinary joe" who embezzled $20,000 and spent three years in a NM jail. Guess he should have been a politician...

Leesa Vigil

I disagree with Senator Sharer. Duran hurt more than herself here. She betrayed the public and the so called public trust.

Carolyn DM

Oh, and how many Northern NM good ole boy politicians do people actually trust? They keep getting voted in due to name recognition. They need to stop breeding.

Don Romero

Ellington is a Joke. A slap on the hand for his Republican buddy.

Stephen Fox

What is significant here is that by sentencing her to 30 days in jail, the Honorable Judge Glenn Ellington went beyond what the Attorney General wanted (no jail time). This restores a lot of my faith in the Judiciary in New Mexico. I have always respected Judge Ellington in the Jurisprudential sense. The accompanying conditions are quite serious and not to be dismissed, and will not only do society some good, but a lot of good in New Mexico in the context of curtailing predatory gambling.

Rick Dumiak

Why do I think if an average citizen were in the same position the sentence would be very different? Talk about a slap on the wrist.....

Pierce Knolls

She'd be a fool to withdraw her plea and reject this sentence. She'll spend just 30 days in jail and then sail off into a comfortable, publicly funded retirement.

Joseph Tafoya

Now we know why a politician is willing to chance be caught committing a felony. No consequence.

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