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FARMINGTON — Several million dollars appear to be missing from title and escrow accounts at New Mexico Title Co., a police detective said Tuesday, as the investigation widens into possible wrongdoing at the Farmington business.

"It's going to be a pretty large and complex investigation," said Farmington Police Sgt. Brandon Lane.

The New Mexico Division of Insurance is auditing the business with the help of the title company's insurance underwriter, First American Title Insurance Co. A report is expected as soon as this week.

Once that report is completed, Farmington police will determine if criminal charges are warranted, Lane said. Investigators are working to discover the extent of funds missing, but the initial investigation suggests it could be more than $10 million, he said.

"From the interviews that we have done with some involved parties, we're starting to get into the double-digit million mark," he said. "Several million dollars worth of funds ... are missing at this point."

On Friday, the state's Financial Institutions Division obtained a restraining and enforcement order to prevent documents at the business from being destroyed or altered. First American Title Insurance won a similar court order giving auditors access to the business.

In its complaint seeking the court order, the Santa Ana, Calif.-based insurance company said its auditors were barred from entering the business and examining documents on Feb. 1.

The insurance company said its auditors were not allowed in despite permission from New Mexico Title Co.


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's owner, Chad Cox, who said he is cooperating with the investigation.

Cox blamed timing for the incident, saying that he and other business associates were meeting with a state investigator at the building when the insurance auditors showed up.

Cox, a Denver businessman and engineer, said he purchased the parent company, J.J. Bond Investments, in June 2010 from another business associate, before purchasing New Mexico Title last year.

Bobby and Carrie Willis, former owners of New Mexico Title, retain ownership of the building at 650 W. Main St., Suite C.

In addition to New Mexico Title's own escrow business, the same location also houses an escrow business controlled by Golden Rule, a limited liability company associated with Bobby and Carrie Willis.

Bobby Willis said last week that his company appeared to be missing money as well. Willis was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, said his attorney, Kyle Finch.

New Mexico Title Co. closed abruptly on Jan. 30 when it stopped accepting title work and interim manager Quentin Smith sent employees home. For days afterward, a phone message said that the business was closed. Customers began to stream in to inquire about their escrow accounts and the status of their real estate transactions.

Several New Mexico Title Co. customers told The Daily Times they had not received expected disbursements from escrow accounts, or that their payments to escrow accounts were not properly credited.

Edward Blinzler, a local businessman, filed a complaint with state regulators after an expected escrow disbursement did not appear. He has an escrow account with New Mexico Title for payments from a couple who bought a house from him. The homebuyers' check has cleared their bank, he said.

"I'm very disappointed," said Blinzler, who added he is glad authorities are investigating the business.

Other customers have complained that the investigation has prevented them from moving their escrow accounts elsewhere. The funds are essentially frozen as the investigation continues.

Escrow accounts typically involve funds put in the care of a third party, allowing the transfer of money from one person to another according to a written agreement. They are often used in real estate transactions.

The ballooning investigation at New Mexico Title Co. could spell the end of the decades-old local business. Cox said he was moving toward closing New Mexico Title.

Formerly known as Basin Title, New Mexico Title Co. was owned by local businessman Jamie Bond from 1990 to 2009, when he sold to Willis.

In an interview last week, Bond said the business was healthy when he sold it.

"The business when I left was in balance," he said. "It was in good shape."

Cox, Smith and Willis also were involved in a failed project to build a multibillion-dollar hospital in Kirtland. Cox said Willis brought him in as an investor and engineer for the hospital project after the two met at a Denver Broncos game.

Cox said he also served as engineer for Willis' attempt in 2011 to start a country music festival in Grand Junction, Colo. The project ran into opposition from government officials and a long-established music festival, CountryJam.

"This has been a very difficult path," Cox said. "I've done some pretty cool projects and dealt with some pretty diverse developers, and this was the most difficult."

Cox said Willis has been "consistent" and up front in his business dealings. "I want to be fair to Bobby," he said.

Cox said he is fully cooperating with authorities in the New Mexico Title Co. investigation.

"I'm interested in seeing what the authorities and the insurance auditors get to the bottom of and identify," he said. "At the end of the day, it's going to be very clear who did it, or there's nothing there."