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FARMINGTON — New Mexico Title Co. was closed Tuesday after several employees were fired, and customers of an escrow business at the same location, 650 W. Main Ave., Suite C, said they had not received expected disbursements and had serious concerns regarding their accounts.

Dusty Hoefer said he was "de facto manager" of the title company, running day-to-day operations until Monday, when he was fired along with other employees.

"They shut down on us (Monday) suddenly," Hoefer said.

New Mexico Title Co. is controlled through a company called J J Bond Investments, which the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission lists as "not in good standing."

Hoefer said he has helped some of the title customers move their business to other companies.

The apparent shutdown of the title company came as a shock to Lela Holmes, a local real estate agent.

"This is absolutely unprecedented," she said. "I have never known a title company to be closed in this state."

Holmes said she had worked with New Mexico Title Co. for years, and as recently as December. But on Monday, when she was prepared to take earnest money there from a recent home sale, a representative told her the title company was no longer accepting new business.

"They're instructing the Realtors to take their contracts elsewhere," she said. "I'm telling our customers who want to use New Mexico Title that we'll have to use another title company."

Problems also have surfaced in the escrow business, customers said.

Edward Blinzler, a local businessman, has an escrow account at New Mexico Title for payments from a couple who bought a house from him. He said he expected a $2,500 disbursement from the escrow account on Jan. 23. It hasn't appeared, and the homebuyers' check has cleared their bank.

"I want my money," said Blinzler, who added that he is prepared to file a complaint with state regulators.

Bobby Willis, who is listed by state authorities as an officer and director of J J Bond Investments, said Tuesday he no longer owns any part of the company.

Willis said he remains involved with an escrow company at the location. "We're looking into what's missing from us," he said. "Authorities have been notified, and we're working with authorities."

Willis said his private counsel and accountants also are looking into missing money. "We're going to let the professionals figure out what happened," he said.

Willis has been in the public eye before. He publicly backed a proposed hospital project in Kirtland that raised numerous red flags, and was embroiled in a controversy regarding a country music festival in Grand Junction, Colo.

It was not clear Tuesday what agency is investigating New Mexico Title, if any. Officials with the Farmington Police Department and New Mexico Public Regulation Commission said they were not aware of any investigation, and an FBI spokesman said the bureau cannot confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Quentin Smith, who described himself as an interim manager brought in recently to resolve the issues, also said funds are missing.

"It's a matter of money being stolen from the company, and we're working on it," he said. "The escrow side is still open, and the title side we're undergoing new ownership."

Another escrow customer, Danny Pope, said he paid into an escrow managed by New Mexico Title, backed by J J Bond Investments. He said the business did not acknowledge receiving a payment, even though he possesses the receipt. And his grandfather, the recipient of the escrow, could remove only $400 of an expected $1,000.

Pope, a local oil and gas truck driver, said he hasn't heard any satisfactory explanation from the company. "In a situation like this, you'd think they'd actually start talking to the customers, telling them what's going on," he said.

Hoefer said customers called to report that checks from New Mexico Title escrow had bounced. Customers have expressed concerns, he said.

"They're asking what the process is to get their file out of there I mean in droves," he said.

Hoefer said the trash cans were gone when he arrived at work Monday, and people were photographing employees' desks. He said he was concerned about what would happen with the escrow accounts.

"It's not like a store or something that you close and don't come back," said Hoefer, who worked at New Mexico Title for more than three years and in the industry for nearly 20. "There's all this other people's money."