Bobby Willis pleads no contest to embezzlement

Steve Garrison
Bobby Willis sits with his attorney, Bob Cooper, on Friday at Farmington District Court hearing where Willis pleaded 'no contest' to two charges of embezzlement.

FARMINGTON — Bobby Willis pleaded no contest on Friday to two counts of felony embezzlement, more than four years after the collapse of his former businesses — New Mexico Title Co. and its sister escrow company.

Judge Louis E. DePauli accepted Willis' plea and found him guilty of one count of embezzlement over $20,000, a second-degree felony, and embezzlement over $2,500, a third-degree felony.

Willis admitted in his plea that the state had sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he stole $94,800 belonging to Damtech LLC in Dec. 30, 2011, according to the plea agreement.

He also admitted the state had sufficient evidence to prove he stole $20,000 from C3 Limited Partnership on Dec. 7, 2011, the agreement states.

At right, Bobby Willis is escorted to court by his attorney, Bob Cooper, left, and his ex-wife, Carrie Willis, on Friday at the Farmington District Court.

The companies entrusted the funds to Willis' New Mexico Escrow Co. to be held pending the completion of a real estate transaction. Both New Mexico Title Co. and the escrow business collapsed in January 2012 amidst complaints of missing funds and mismanagement.

All other state charges against Willis were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, including one felony count of racketeering and five counts of felony fraud.

Willis' attorney, Joshua Boone, declined to say after the hearing why Willis accepted the plea.

"It was simply an agreement with the state," he said.

Willis faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison and two years of parole. He agreed to pay full restitution to both companies as part of the agreement.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement Friday that Willis cannot erase that debt through bankruptcy. Balderas also said Willis must pay court-ordered fines.

"Criminals who prey on New Mexico businesses and families will be held accountable for stripping the wealth of our communities," Balderas said.

However, Jude DePauli said Friday that he would not order restitution at sentencing for victims not specifically identified in the plea agreement.

"You are going to have to tell the other victims to seek redress through the civil process," DePauli said.

DePauli further ruled he would not hear testimony from those victims at sentencing.

Two of those alleged victims, Ronnie Garner and and Mike Atchison, attended Friday's plea hearing.

"I think it's just terrible that victims will not be able to testify," Garner said after the hearing.

Garner alleges he provided Willis $2.4 million in 2010 to invest in properties linked to a veterans hospital development in Kirtland that was never built. Atchison allegedly gave Willis $1.56 million for the same phony investment.

Both men have filed civil lawsuits against Willis.

Prosecutor Yvonne Chicoine with the New Mexico Attorney General's Office speaks during a hearing for Bobby Willis on Friday at Farmington District Court.

Assistant Attorney General Yvonne Chicoine indicated at Friday's proceeding that the state will seek the maximum prison sentence.

"Mr. Willis is a predator," Chicoine said. "He preys on the community."

DePauli said the sentencing hearing would take place in approximately 60 days.

Boone's co-counsel, Bob Cooper, told DePauli he will file a sentencing memorandum on behalf of his client within 40 days.

Willis remains charged in federal court with one count of wire fraud on allegations he stole nearly $1 million from a Farmington couple through the Kirtland veterans hospital project.

A jury trial is scheduled in that case for June 2.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

Judge Louis DePauli listens to the defense on Friday during a hearing for Bobby Willis at the Farmington District Court.