After Resigning, N.M. Secretary of State Sentenced to Jail

by | December 15, 2015 AT 12:00 PM

By Steve Terrell

After a brief but tearful plea for leniency from former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington on Monday sentenced her to 30 days in jail, a fine of $14,000 and restitution totaling $13,866.

Duran, a Republican who won election as secretary of state on an anti-corruption platform, also would have to publicly apologize in letters printed in six publications and perform 2,000 hours of community service.

But Duran, 60, still has the option of rejecting the sentence because Ellington imposed jail time. If she does, her plea bargain with the state attorney general would be voided, and she once again would be facing 65 criminal charges. She has until Wednesday to decide whether she'll take the sentence.

Duran pleaded guilty to six of the charges that she embezzled campaign donations and doctored state campaign reports to cover up her theft. In a letter her attorney wrote to Ellington, Duran said she was a gambling addict who was preyed upon by casinos that offered her lines of credit.

If she accepts the sentence, she will begin her jail term on Friday and be released in the middle of January. The judge denied a request that Duran be allowed to begin her sentence after the Christmas holidays.

Ellington announced a total of seven-and-a-half years of incarceration for Duran, but he suspended all but the 30-day jail sentence.

Duran was weeping so hard she barely could speak when she addressed Ellington at the hearing. "I apologize to the people of New Mexico, to my family and my friends," she said. "And I'm truly sorry. I would just ask this court for forgiveness and leniency."

Before he announced his sentence, Ellington spoke of "restorative justice" which, he said, "goes beyond punishment and mercy."

As part of her sentence, Duran would have to speak to school and civic groups four times a month for the next three years about her life, her gambling addiction and her betrayal of the the public's trust.

She would also have to be under electronic monitoring for two years to make sure she doesn't go to casinos or racetracks.

Another part of the sentence would be require her to write letters of apology to her campaign contributors whose checks she embezzled for personal use. Those letters would have to be hand-delivered, Ellington said. This would be in addition to her having buy ads in at least six newspapers around the state to apologize for her crimes.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a statement after the hearing saying "The swift adjudication of this matter rectifies the public harm done by the criminal conduct of Ms. Duran and saved tremendous taxpayer impeachment resources." Balderas said. "The Office of the Attorney General thoroughly investigated the case, which resulted in felony convictions and jail time."

A special investigative committee of the state House of Representatives had been studying an impeachment proceeding against Duran. That effort ended in October when she resigned from office and then pleaded guilty to six of the 65 charges.

Several of Duran's friends spoke at the hearing, asking Ellington to be lenient with her. Among them was state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington. He told Ellington while he is "known as a tough-on-crime legislator" he believes Duran should be spared from harsh punishment. Duran, Sharer said, "didn't hurt anyone but herself ... and she's already paid a high price for that."

Sharer and Duran served together in the Senate before voters elected her as secretary of state in 2010. They re-elected her last year. She also was the Otero County clerk for two terms, four years in all, before winning election to the Senate.

In announcing his sentence, the judge said that campaign finance laws create rights for the public, specifically the right to know how candidates are spending their money. "You are here because you were trusted by public to enforce campaign laws," he told Duran."

(c)2015 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)