Judge again denies businessman's request for reduced bond

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — For the second time in less than six months, a district court judge denied a motion that would allow former New Mexico Title Co. owner Bobby Willis to be released from the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on a reduced bond.

Judge Sandra Price ruled Friday that Willis would need to pay the pre-existing $250,000 cash-only bond to be released into the community, citing concerns previously raised by Judge William Birdsall that Willis is a flight risk.

"He was allowed to travel," Price said, referring to a former judge's decision to allow Willis to reside in Branson, Mo., while he awaited trial. "He was allowed to leave the area under certain conditions. He did not follow those conditions. He did not return for hearings."

Price acknowledged that Willis' medical condition might have limited his ability to return for a court hearing last spring but said his decision to challenge his extradition from Missouri was an unnecessary burden on the state.

Albuquerque defense attorney Joshua Boone is representing Willis, who faces decades in prison after being charged in August 2012 with five felony counts of embezzlement, one felony count of racketeering, one felony count of fraud and one felony count of securities fraud.

Willis is accused of misleading investors for a proposed multi-million-dollar hospital project in Kirtland, stealing gemstones and jewelry from a former business partner, and embezzling from an escrow account, according to an arrest warrant.

Boone argued unsuccessfully Friday that Willis' medical issues made it impossible for him to abscond and instead made him a potential liability to the county.

"If something goes wrong, it's ultimately the jail that bears responsibility," he said.

According to court filings, Willis was admitted to a Branson, Mo., hospital in November 2013 complaining of weakness and difficulty with speech. His blood pressure tested dangerously high, according to filings.

However, a health official at the detention center testified in September that she believes the jail is capable of providing adequate treatment to Willis, and Birdsall said there were concerns that Willis was aggravating his condition by refusing to take medication.

Assistant New Mexico Attorney General Tony Long said at the hearing that it was questionable whether any property Willis put up as collateral to cover his bond would remain his for long.

"The best way I can put this: There is a quite a bit of property in this case being held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Long said. "Some of that property is in the form of millions of dollars in jewelry and coins. I am not certain that any property that he has will be his property for long."

An Albuquerque attorney appointed by the court to identify Willis' assets and pay claimants in a pending civil case said in September that the IRS "is interested" in Willis' assets.

The FBI does not typically comment on pending investigations.

Price said at the hearing that Willis would be tried on one count of felony embezzlement within three months. A second trial would be held within six months to determine whether he is guilty of the other offenses of which he stands accused.

Long said the case is complex and is still being reviewed, but "if the judge will set the case for trial in the next months, I will do everything in my power to be ready for that date."

Boone said that he will be filing a motion requesting that the trial take place outside the county.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.