ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico attorney general said Thursday there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the district attorney of the state’s most populous county over allegations of bribery and intimidation of witnesses.
State Attorney General Hector Balderas also criticized Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and the Albuquerque Police Department for their actions in connection with two pending investigations of Brandenburg’s son.
There were “identifiable leadership failures to which both agencies can take immediate corrective action,” Balderas said in a statement.
Balderas also said the referral of the Brandenburg matter to his office by police “was based solely on a political motivation.”
It came after Brandenburg charged two Albuquerque police officers with murder in the 2014 shooting death of a homeless man during a standoff.
She has denied any wrongdoing and previously suggested the investigation into her was politically motivated.
The investigation began after her son Justin Koch was accused in late 2013 by friends of stealing from them. Police say they suspected Brandenburg had contacted some of the friends and talked about reimbursing them for their losses.
Koch has not been charged with any of these thefts but is facing larceny and shoplifting charges in other cases.
The inquiry into Brandenburg was not forwarded to the attorney general’s office until November for review of potential criminal charges - timing that was sharply questioned by Balderas in his seven-page letter outlining his findings to Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden.
The notification occurred soon after Brandenburg had notified attorneys for officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy that she would be charging them with murder in the shooting death of James Boyd, Balderas said.
The attorney general’s decision not to charge Brandenburg followed a four-month investigation by his office. A lack of corroborating evidence, in part, contributed to his decision, he said.
Brandenburg was unavailable for comment but her attorney Peter Schoenburg said, “we’re pleased and relieved” with the attorney general’s findings. Schoenburg said his client did not intercede in any way in the criminal process of her son’s case.
However, Schoenburg added that it was unfair to criticize Brandenburg’s actions as a mother.
“She was reaching out to family and friends who were victimized by Justin and trying to make them whole,” Schoenburg said.
Eden did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The attorney general also said actions taken by the police department, including publicly releasing the details of Brandenburg’s alleged involvement, “complicated further investigation and prosecution in this matter.”
Balderas also critiqued Brandenburg’s conduct, saying it wasn’t criminal but “clearly created an appearance of impropriety.” His report said Brandenburg reimbursed a couple $800 for a stolen handgun.
However, Balderas noted there was no evidence it was done to try to keep the people from telling police about the involvement of Koch.
In a separate alleged burglary case, another man initiated a Facebook conversation with Brandenburg, who in a subsequent message asked him to let her know the value of the stolen items and she would “try to work on it,” the attorney general said.
Brandenburg later told the man she wasn’t going to reimburse him. There were no threats or intimidation in either case, Balderas said.
Brandenburg should have arranged for a special prosecutor and refrained from personally engaging potential witnesses and alleged victims in cases involving her son, the attorney general said.
Her “position as chief prosecutor and law enforcement official for the Second Judicial District requires she avoid all appearances of impropriety,” Balderas wrote.
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