Dianna Duran seeks to avoid jail time

Morgan Lee
Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran, left, sits with her attorney Erlinda Johnson in District Judge Glenn Ellington's court on Oct. 23 in Santa Fe.

Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has asked a judge for leniency, saying she sought treatment for a gambling problem after pleading guilty to embezzlement and other charges related to siphoning thousands of dollars from her election account.

Defense attorney Erlinda Johnson said personal hardships and health problems led the 60-year-old Duran to begin frequenting casinos in 2012.

“Tragically, Ms. Duran eventually fell prey to casinos’ predatory tactics of ensnaring older women to continue playing their addictive diversions,” Johnson wrote.

The attorney says Duran should be ordered to undergo supervised probation and to provide restitution of $11,566.80 — the amount she acknowledged misappropriating from campaign funds.

Duran pleaded guilty in October to felony embezzlement and four misdemeanors. A judge ruled that Duran can withdraw her guilty pleas if prison time is imposed.

The sentencing memo by her attorney says Duran made good on her gambling debts with casinos.

“The misappropriation of campaign donations occurred when she deposited a few checks into her personal account,” the filing said. “Ms. Duran submits that she intended to return the donation checks to her campaign account. Unfortunately, as her personal struggles deepened, she neglected to repay her campaign.”

The state attorney general’s office said the agency will provide its own arguments at the Dec. 14 sentencing hearing.

The sentencing memo describes how Duran grew up poor as the daughter of a bricklayer and World War II veteran and who got into public service as a teenager and went on to a “longstanding, impeccable career.” It described her gambling addiction as the catalyst behind an “agonizing tale of unparalleled calamity.”

“The ends of justice would respectfully not be served by incarcerating this aging woman,” her lawyer wrote.

As secretary of state, the Republican was one of New Mexico’s highest-ranking elected officials. She won a second term last year and was the first Republican elected to the post since 1928.

She began her political career as a deputy county clerk in southern New Mexico in 1988 and ran for secretary of state on a platform of eliminating voter fraud.

The charges against Duran have helped spur a raft of legislative proposals designed to increase penalties for public officials convicted of corruption and beef up campaign finance disclosures and oversight.

Duran recently received her first monthly pension payment of $4,858 from New Mexico’s Public Employees Retirement Association, amounting to roughly $60,000 a year. Her pension is set to go up once her tenure as a state senator is factored into the payments.

A 2012 campaign finance law allows judges to increase sentences against the value of salary and fringe benefits, but New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says the wording of the law lacks the teeth needed to target Duran’s pension. He is urging new reforms.

“Judges and prosecutors need the proper tools to withhold a state pension and we are requesting that the Legislature immediately create an effective criminal pension forfeiture statute for corrupt public officials,” said James Hallinan, spokesman for the attorney general’s office.