FARMINGTON — An arrest warrant was issued for Bobby L. Willis, former owner of New Mexico Title Co. and New Mexico Title Escrow Co., on suspicion of racketeering, fraud, embezzlement and securities fraud.
Willis is accused of luring investors for a proposed multibillion-dollar hospital project in Kirtland that went nowhere, and for taking money from escrow accounts at New Mexico Title for personal use.
He was not in custody Monday, said Cpl. Russ Bradford, a Farmington Police Department detective.
John W. Day, a Santa Fe lawyer representing Willis, said his client will address the allegations.
“What I can say is that Mr. Willis intends to address these issues in the appropriate forum, and he will plead not guilty,” Day said.
An arrest affidavit for Willis said he took more than $1.5 million from investor Mike Atchison to invest in the hospital project. Atchison eventually grew suspicious of Willis' plan but was not able to get his money back from Willis when he demanded it.
Atchison gave Willis several checks, including one for $1 million, and 839 gold eagle coins valued at more than $1.3 million. The affidavit said Atchison also lost $8 million in a classic car investment with Willis that went bad.
Atchison is one of several investors who were enmeshed in Willis' business ventures.
Willis is the only figure in the case to date who is the subject of an arrest warrant, Bradford said.
“The investigation is continuing, and additional warrants may be done at a later date,” he said.
The affidavit paints a colorful picture of Willis' business dealings. When investigators arrived Feb. 1 amid customer complaints and media reports of customers who were missing money from their escrow accounts, they found more than $78,000 in cash, checks and money orders in a file drawer, rather than in a deposit account as required by state law.
The state Financial Institutions Division has identified 66 checks and money transfers totaling nearly $1.6 million that were taken from the customer trust account and were not issued to customers, according to the affidavit.
One check for $132,880 was an annual payment for a suite at the Denver Broncos football stadium.
State investigators previously said they found refrigerated beer kegs, an ornate bar and a pool table at the business.
New Mexico Title Co. and New Mexico Title Escrow Co. were legally separate entities that shared an office building at 650 W. Main St., Suite C. However, investigators said the businesses' bookkeeping was intertwined, and their insurer, First American Title Insurance Co. of California, said employees at the title company had crossover signature authority for escrow accounts at the escrow company.
Willis could not be reached for comment. A call to his local cell phone number indicated the number no longer works.
Bobby and Carrie Willis, formerly of Kirtland, now live in Branson, Mo., according to a police report from that city cited in the affidavit.
Branson police conducting a check at the Willis' residence found an under-construction basement that was torn apart to accommodate three large safes, and a wall in front of the safes meant to conceal their existence.
The report also noted many weapons placed strategically around the Branson home, including one bedroom that had a shotgun in one corner and an assault rifle in the other. Branson police also found multiple loaded handgun magazines, ballistic rifle ammunition and several cell phones.
Willis' involvement in the title and escrow companies' collapse followed a bizarre proposal he publicly backed to build a massive hospital complex in Kirtland.
In March 2010, Gary Risley, a Farmington lawyer who represented Willis, said the hospital would be operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and bring 8,000 jobs to the community.
Agency representatives later said they had no involvement in the project, and had no interest in opening a VA hospital in the sparsely populated Four Corners area.
The project never reached a formal government planning process, and state officials who were presented with the project said they never saw a substantive business plan.
Willis also raised eyebrows in Grand Junction, Colo., when he expressed interest in buying Country Jam, an established music festival there, then proposed to start a competing festival.
That drew a lawsuit from Country Jam organizers that was later dropped.
The affidavit indicates New Mexico Title's troubles may have been more closely tied to the Kirtland hospital project than was previously known.
Chad Cox, a Denver-area businessman, said earlier this year that he purchased New Mexico Title Co. from Atchison in September 2011 after purchasing the parent company, J.J. Bond Investments Inc., in 2010.
Cox said the shuffling was part of the Kirtland hospital project.
“They were orchestrated to support that project moving forward,” he said.
When New Mexico Title closed abruptly Jan. 30 amid angry customer complaints, Willis said he was a victim of the collapse.
“We're looking into what's missing from us,” Willis said at the time.
He added, “I'm probably going to be one of the biggest victims here with this thing.”