Bobby Willis to be tried in McKinley County
AZTEC — A district court judge has ruled that Bobby Willis' trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement will take place in neighboring McKinley County.
District Judge Louis E. DePauli made the decision in an order filed in Aztec District Court on Oct. 27.
DePauli did not provide an explanation for his decision in the order, but Willis' attorney, Joshua Boone, argued at a change of venue hearing on Sept. 24 that his client would be unable to receive a fair trial in San Juan County, due in part to the significant amount of press coverage the criminal case has received.
Willis, 43, was arraigned last summer in Aztec District Court on multiple felony counts of fraud and embezzlement stemming from the dissolution in 2012 of New Mexico Title Co. and its sister company, New Mexico Title Escrow Co. He is also accused of bilking two men out of millions of dollars in cash and assets through an investment scheme implemented in March 2010.
Boone argued at the Sept. 24 hearing that San Juan County residents were prejudiced against Willis due to the scrutiny his case has received in the media, pointing to news articles in which alleged victims refer to Willis as a "nefarious human being" and a "con man."
Boone also alleged that New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas made prejudicial statements about the dissolution of New Mexico Title Co. when he visited Farmington in May 2012.
Balderas, then the New Mexico state auditor, said at the time the collapse was a "fiasco" and "tragic case," which hurt the community's reputation.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office is prosecuting the Willis case. Spokesman James Hallinan said the attorney general had no comment on the case.
Boone could not be reached for comment.
In a separate case, Willis was indicted Oct. 20 in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico on two counts of wire fraud. He is accused in that case of stealing $1 million from a San Juan County couple through a real estate investment scheme.
He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing on Nov. 4. He is expected to appear at trial in Albuquerque on Jan. 11, according to court records.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.