AG will take referrals from secretary of state

Dan Schwartz

FARMINGTON — The state's attorney general’s office will accept dozens of referrals from the New Mexico Office of the Secretary of State for violations of campaign finance reporting requirements — representing more than $165,000 in uncollected fines — that had been in limbo before the office's former leader, Dianna Duran, abruptly resigned last week and agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges.

“The Office of the Attorney General is now providing legal services to the Office of the Secretary of State again,” said spokesman James Hallinan, “and we will be addressing the matters.”

Dianna Duran

Duran’s office earlier this year referred 31 cases to Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office. They included unpaid fines levied against candidates and political action committees for violations of the Campaign Reporting Act.

But Balderas returned the referrals in late September after his office filed a criminal complaint against Duran alleging fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, campaign finance reporting violations and other crimes. Duran was allegedly siphoning thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for her personal use. Then in early October, his office accused her in another criminal complaint of identity theft.

Duran pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges and four misdemeanors Friday morning after abruptly resigning Thursday night.

Duran had not referred any violations of campaign finance reporting requirements in the 2012 or 2014 primary and general elections until the results of a Daily Times investigation were published in early February. It found her office had collected only 4 percent of the nearly 2,000 fines it assessed, waived a third of them and hadn’t referred any of the rest for investigation and possible prosecution.

Later that month, Balderas sent a letter to Duran telling her he was ready for referrals.

The 31 cases the Secretary of State’s Office sent to the attorney general included a total of $165,800 in uncollected fines, many of which people accrued by filing late campaign finance reports, according to documents from both their offices.

Hector Balderas

Since she referred those cases, three candidates and three PACs paid their fines, but thousands of dollars remain uncollected, officials said. Nineteen candidates accounted for nearly $42,500 in unpaid fines, the secretary of state’s chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, said in an email. Six PACs accounted for another $123,350, he said.

During the time the attorney general was not taking referrals from the Secretary of State's Office, Duran could have referred the cases to local district attorneys. But San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow, who also is president of the state’s district attorney association, said that as of Monday the Secretary of State’s office had not referred any of the remaining cases to a district attorney in New Mexico.

Asked whether the Secretary of State’s Office will refer the cases to district attorneys or the attorney general’s office, Ortiz said, “Our ethics staff is in the process of determining the best strategy for managing the cases.”

The Daily Times also asked Ortiz if his office was investigating discrepancies the newspaper reported regarding the campaign finances of Matthew Tso, a local candidate who at one point had accrued more than $22,700 in unpaid fines for Campaign Reporting Act violations. Ortiz said only that Tso had since paid the fines. But there were other problems.

Records at Farmington radio station KNDN show Tso spent $723.09 on ads in the 2012 primary election, but the candidate’s campaign finance reports – which are supposed to list all donations and expenditures – show no activity during that election.

The radio station’s records also show Tso spent $439.46 on advertising during the 2014 general election, but his reports account for only $278.68 spent on ads at the station that election cycle.

Tso did not return a phone call or text message placed to his cell phone on Friday seeking comment.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.