Victims seek voice in state's embezzlement case
FARMINGTON — State prosecutors are again asking a judge to hear from alleged victims who lost money in the collapse of New Mexico Title Co.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office argues in a March 9 motion that the victims' testimony would help Judge Louis DePauli decide what sentence is appropriate for Bobby Willis, who pleaded no contest earlier this month to embezzlement in connection to the collapse of his former businesses in February 2012.
DePauli previously ruled he would not hear from victims not specifically named in Willis' plea agreement.
Assistant Attorney General Zach Jones states in the motion that the alleged victims' testimony would "paint a picture beyond what the two convictions suggest — that Defendant's business dealings were more along the lines of someone charged with racketeering than a chronically ill, down-on-his-luck businessman."
Willis' attorney, Joshua Boone, said in a response to the motion that the state's alleged victims — Ronnie Garner, Michael Atchison and Quentin Smith — were actually disenchanted former investors who are already seeking restitution from Willis through civil litigation.
"Thus Dr. Garner, Michael Atchison and Quentin Smith have a vested interest (and) bias to ensure that Mr. Willis goes to jail, as it will only help their individual claims," Boone states.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in an email Tuesday he could not comment on ongoing criminal matters. Boone did not respond to a request for comment.
Willis, 43, was convicted March 4 on two counts of felony embezzlement in the theft of more than $100,000 from Damtech LLC and C3 Limited Partnership.
Both companies entrusted funds in December 2011 with Willis' former business, New Mexico Title Co., before it and its sister New Mexico Title Escrow Co. collapsed in February 2012 amidst complaints of mismanagement and missing funds, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Prosecutors allege Willis spent millions of dollars of company funds on personal expenditures, including the purchase of real estate and the rental of an executive suite at the Denver Broncos' football stadium, the affidavit states.
Willis agreed as part of his plea agreement to pay $94,800 in restitution to Damtech LLC, owned by Douglas Damask, and $20,000 to C3 Limited Partnership, owned by Fred Morrison.
Both Morrison and Damask are expected to testify at Willis' sentencing hearing on April 27, but Judge Louis DePauli has said he will not order Willis to pay restitution to dozens of other individuals who claim to have lost money in the collapse of New Mexico Title Co.
DePauli also ruled he would not allow any of the other alleged victims to testify at sentencing.
Local contractor Ed Blinzler said in an interview Tuesday he is one of those victims. He said he lost about $2,500 that was held in escrow when Willis' businesses collapsed and he said there were others who lost tens of thousands of dollars.
"What upsets me is that it was a regulated business, and it was supposed to have oversight by the state," he said.
Blinzler characterized Willis' business as a "ponzi scheme." He said he felt the state of New Mexico has twice betrayed him — first by failing to provide proper oversight of Willis' businesses and now by failing to seek restitution for him and others like him.
"I understand the guy did something wrong, but for the state to throw us all under the bus, that to me makes it so much worse," he said. "What are you going to do, though? You can't sue the king."
Attorney Darryl Millet is a court-appointed receiver representing about 30 alleged victims who claim in a lawsuit filed in February 2012 they lost money in the collapse of New Mexico Title Co. and New Mexico Title Escrow Co.
Millet said Wednesday he is attempting to sell property belonging to Willis to pay those claimants, but Willis has challenged that sale in court.
Willis' attorney, Allan Wainwright, did not respond to a request for comment.
Millet said a Santa Fe judge will rule in July on whether to allow those sales to continue. He said the judge will also hear arguments on whether to terminate the receivership.
Millet said if the receivership is not terminated, individuals who have lost funds in the collapse of New Mexico Title Co. and its sister escrow company can also file a claim against Willis' estate by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org
"We are hopeful to finally be able to resolve these claims," he said. "They have been pending for a long time."
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.