FARMINGTON — One question has lingered over the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau in the wake of Debbie Dusenbery's embezzlement of more than $500,000 in taxpayer money: can the city get the money back?

Tuesday's city council work session may provide some answers.

Attorney Richard Gerding with Gerding and O'Loughlin in Farmington will present a plan to recoup the funds from Dusenbery's estate to city council. Gerding is representing the visitors bureau, said bureau executive director Tonya Stinson.

Gerding could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Dusenbery, 41, was suspended as Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director in mid-January 2012 after allegations that she had embezzled taxpayer funds.
Debbie Dunesbery
Debbie Dunesbery (file photo)
She committed suicide in the Arizona desert about four weeks later.

City officials have been seeking answers since February 2012.

"I think the convention and visitors bureau is pursuing the correct course of action," said Mayor Tommy Roberts in a phone interview Thursday. "They've retained an attorney and are making claims through the settlement of (Dusenbery's) estate."

Roberts, however, is less than optimistic on the final outcome of the bureau's efforts.

"I have low hopes of recovering (significant) funds, but any amount that can be recovered should be," he said.

Although recovering the lost funds has been an ongoing city discussion, Councilwoman Mary Fischer said the issue is much broader and insidious than embezzlement.

"I think there are people that did benefit from Dusenbery's misdeeds," Fischer said. "I'm very disappointed that they haven't stepped forward."

The investigation into the embezzlement revealed that it is likely that some area residents received trips and other gifts paid for with the stolen funds. What is not known is who benefited.

"Many of them didn't know (about the embezzlement)," Fischer said. "But they should come forward and reimburse the funds. It would be the honorable thing to do."

For Fischer, the overarching question is the investigation stopped.

"Is why the investigation was stopped because prominent people were about to be named?" she said. "I strongly suspect that there has been a cover-up. I have always wanted for the names to be named."

It should have been the city's obligation to pursue the investigation to its end, she said.

"They should have allowed Sgt. (Robert) Perez to do what it took instead of firing him," she said.

Perez, the lead detective on the Dusenbery case, was fired in February 2013 after 19 years with the Farmington Police Department. He was hired as a detective with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office shortly after.
 Tonya Stinson
Tonya Stinson (file photo)


Although crucial months have passed, Fischer said she is taking the Dusenbery case to higher powers.

"There's still civil action that can be taken," she said. "I hope that someone on the state level would take (the case) and run with it. The tentacles here run deep. We need an uninterested third party."

Among other agencies, Fischer said she has spoken to state attorney genera Gary King and is hoping to contact Hector Balderas, state auditor.

"I expect to have further conversations with (King) in the coming weeks," she said. "If ever there was a case that has state auditor written on it, it's this one."

Definitive answers, however, remain painfully few, Fischer said.

"We're no closer to the bottom of this than we were a year ago," she said. "This culture of looking the other way is unacceptable in my book. Any other (case) would have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law, like that woman who stole $16,000 from the Bloomfield (Motor Vehicle Department)."

Greg Yee can be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.