Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who illegally used campaign funds to keep her personal bank account in the black while gambling at New Mexico casinos, has until Wednesday to decide whether to spend 30 days in jail or withdraw her guilty plea and instead go to trial.
That’s because District Judge T. Glenn Ellington on Monday rejected, in part, an agreement between Duran and the Attorney General’s Office that would have allowed Duran to avoid incarceration in exchange for admitting to her crimes.
Duran pleaded guilty in October to six of 65 charges she faced, including embezzlement and money laundering. Two of the charges to which Duran admitted are felonies. The other four are misdemeanors. As part of her plea agreement, she also resigned from her position as secretary of state.
On Monday, Ellington also rejected a request that Duran’s 30-day jail sentence begin after Christmas so she could spent the holiday with her family. Ellington said Duran, unless she backs out of her plea agreement, will be jailed from Dec. 18 to Jan. 17.
As part of her sentence, Ellington ordered Duran to pay $14,000 in fines and an additional $13,866 in restitution to her campaign contributors — the victims in the case. She must continue counseling for a gambling addiction. She must stay out of all gambling establishments for a period of 2-3 years, with GPS monitoring confirming that she does.
Duran must also complete 2,000 hours of community service over the next five years that doesn’t involve raising funds or managing finances for any charitable organization. She must write letters of apology to her campaign contributors and the State of New Mexico. And she must speak publicly about her crimes.
If Duran fails to complete those requirements, she could face an additional 7.5 years in prison.
Ellington’s reason for incarceration
Ellington said he was requiring Duran to serve jail time because of the unique nature of her crimes, which she was able to commit as a candidate for public office — a position in which most New Mexicans never find themselves. And she abused the state’s campaign finance reporting system — which, as secretary of state, she was in charge of running.
“It affects public confidence in their elected officials and also in the offices they hold,” Ellington said during Monday’s sentencing hearing. “The reason you are here is because you were entrusted by the people in the State of New Mexico to enforce the campaign laws – and that is a portion of the crime you have committed.”
Duran and her attorney, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson of Albuquerque, haven’t said whether Duran will accept the sentence by Wednesday or report to jail on Friday.
Ellington made clear when Duran entered into the plea bargain in October that she could back out of it if he decided to incarcerate her. The Attorney General’s Office on Monday pushed back against the idea that Duran could renege on the agreement. Ellington disagreed.
So if Duran tries to back out of the agreement, there could be a legal battle over whether that’s allowable.
And if Duran is allowed to renege on the deal, the case would proceed to trial.
‘I am truly sorry’
Duran, through tears, apologized to the state, her family, and her friends during Monday’s sentencing hearing. She was so choked up that she had difficulty speaking.
“I am truly sorry. I would just ask — I’m sorry — I would just ask this court for forgiveness,” Duran said.
Meanwhile, a group of people stood outside the courthouse during Monday’s hearing protesting the plea agreement. They argued that Duran deserved incarceration.
Ellington compared Duran’s gambling to other addictions he sees in his courtroom, and noted that Duran has made statements about her crimes that “follow a pattern of rationalization and excuse that I hear from many addicts.”
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, spoke as a character witness for Duran, a Republican and former state senator. Sharer said he is known as a “tough-on-crime legislator,” but in this case was arguing for leniency.
“She didn’t harm anybody but herself,” Sharer said. “… What she took was her own reputation, and she’s paid a high price already.”
Among those who wrote letters to Ellington in support of Duran before Monday’s hearing were U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Duran’s counselor, who stated that the former secretary of state had an “excellent prognosis” of recovering from her gambling addiction.
Following the sentencing hearing, Attorney General Hector Balderas said the “swift adjudication of this matter rectifies the public harm done by the criminal conduct of Ms. Duran and saved tremendous taxpayer impeachment resources.”
And even though resolution may not be final final, Balderas, in a prepared statement, said the case “resulted in felony convictions and jail time.”
“With this matter coming to a close, this office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute public corruption in New Mexico,” he said.
Details of the case
Duran was facing fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and dozens of other charges related to illegally using campaign funds to keep her personal bank account.
She was accused of depositing some checks intended to be campaign contributions into her personal bank account and never disclosing them as political donations. In other instances the AG’s office said Duran took money out of her campaign account and deposited it into her personal account.
In all, Duran was accused of misusing about $13,866.80 in campaign funds.
Duran also faced a charge of identify theft for listing a former state senator as her campaign treasurer, allegedly without his knowledge.