FARMINGTON — Among several high-profile, high-dollar embezzlement scandals in San Juan County over the last two years, just one of the suspects has taken steps to repay the victims.
Melissa Mead, of Farmington, was arrested in January on suspicion of stealing more than $25,000 from the Bloomfield Motor Vehicle Department.
Police said Mead, a temporary employee who was managing the department, stole money to feed her gambling addiction, according to court documents.
After her preliminary hearing, Mead applied and was accepted into a pre-prosecution diversion program the San Juan County District Attorney's Office offers. To be accepted into the program, defendants must pay back half of what they stole. They have to pay the entire restitution to complete the program.
Defendants can have criminal charges against them dropped if they complete the two-year program, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien. He said the office offers the program to defendants who do not have felony convictions or who do not have extensive criminal records and have been charged with non-violent property crimes, including larceny, embezzlement and fraud.
The office also has a diversion program for people charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and drug offenses.
O'Brien said Mead has paid the city of Bloomfield $12,972, and she has a payment plan for paying back the rest of the money.
Victims in several other local embezzlement cases have not received restitution.
Notable cases include:
"It's the best tool we have as prosecutors to get the victim made whole because (the defendant) has no chance of completing the program unless they pay the victim back," O'Brien said.
Dean Beck, the program's director, said 106 people are going through a diversion program, and 50 defendants have applied to the program.
Beck said about 60 percent of defendants who apply to the program are accepted. About 85 percent of people complete the program and charges are dismissed.
When defendants are accepted into the program, the criminal case against them is dismissed. But if they fail to complete the program, the same charges are filed against them in district court, O'Brien said.
Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said he is pleased Mead is on track to pay back what she stole. But after a 20-year career in law enforcement as a patrol sergeant and detective, Eckstein said he thinks defendants who commit serious thefts should have to pay back what they stole and face criminal charges.
"She did own up to what she did and that's commendable because you don't always see that in society ... but I would like to see the city made complete and the suspect pay for the crimes they committed," he said. "I just think it's really important to know that if you work in government and you are stealing, you are not just stealing from your employer. You are stealing from the taxpayers."Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.