Anita Johnston
Anita Johnston (Courtesy of San Juan County Sheriff s Office)

FARMINGTON — A 66-year-old Aztec woman was arrested on suspicion of embezzling about $80,000 from a Farmington church.

Anita Johnston was charged with a second-degree felony and booked into jail Tuesday evening, said San Juan County Sheriff's Office Lt. Cory Tanner.

Tanner said that over the last seven years, Johnston stole $80,000 from New Life Worship Center, 8121 E. Main St. in Farmington.

Tanner said Johnson was the church's bookkeeper. The church provided her with blank checks, and she was depositing the checks into her son's bank account without his knowledge, Tanner said.

Church officials contacted deputies on Oct. 4 after the head pastor tried to make a withdrawal from the church's bank account, and there was not enough money left to make the withdrawal, Tanner said.

A message left with the church was not returned Wednesday.

The New Life Worship Center is an Assembly of God church.

Detectives served Johnston with an arrest warrant Tuesday. Johnston allegedly admitted to the crime and said she had "no excuse for what she did," according to a sheriff's office news release.

Johnston has a history of financial crimes.

In April 2001, she pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony for fraud and a fourth-degree felony for embezzlement. She received a conditional discharge for those guilty pleas, according to a state court website. She was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement in September 2010 and was sentenced to unsupervised probation.

A conditional discharge is when the judge accepts a defendant's guilty plea but doesn't adjudicate guilt. The defendant can then complete probation and avoid a felony conviction, said San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien.

"If she's already received a conditional discharge, she can't get another one," O'Brien said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

O'Brien said that conditional discharges can be used to enhance sentences for subsequent felonies.

In addition to those crimes, Johnston has a long history of having to appear in district court because of her debts, according to a state court website.

Tanner said Johnston's past criminal history left her in financial troubles, which may have prompted her to embezzle from the church.

Johnston is being held at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on a $30,000 cash-only bond, according to the news release.

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.