- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The former head of New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department was charged Thursday with embezzlement and multiple corruption and ethics violations in her role as Cabinet secretary.

Demesia Padilla is charged with embezzlement of more than $20,000 and five counts of violating ethical principles of public service, state district court documents show. The charges include computer access with intent to defraud.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, says the office cannot comment on pending criminal matters beyond publicly filed documents.

State investigators raided tax department offices in 2016 while eyeing allegations by tax agency employees that Padilla gave preferential treatment to a former client of her accounting business. Padilla resigned as secretary shortly thereafter.

Padilla’s attorney, Paul Kennedy, said he could not provide comment on her behalf because he had not yet seen the documents outlining the charges against her.

The attorney general’s office alleges that Padilla advocated as tax secretary for abatement of a tax penalty against Harold’s Grading & Trucking - a client of the Padilla & Garcia accounting firm previously operated by Padilla and her husband.

Those and other actions resulted in a reduction of Padilla’s own tax liability and that of her husband, state prosecutors allege.

Padilla also is accused of making unauthorized transfers totaling $25,360 from the trucking firm’s bank account.

The state also accuses Padilla of accessing tax records of former personal clients and current clients of her husband, accountant Jessie Medina, on numerous occasions and of failing to disclose real or potential conflicts of interest in her role at the taxation department.

The investigation of Padilla stems from complaints in 2015 to a fraud hotline at the state auditor’s office and letters from unidentified department employees initially sent to the governor’s chief of staff, Keith Gardner, and then to state auditors.

Padilla took office as the state’s top taxation official in January 2011 at the outset of Martinez’s first term as governor. Immediately prior to the appointment, she worked at Padilla & Garcia as a co-owner with Camillia Garcia-Sanchez.

In interviews by investors contained in the state’s vase, employees of Taxation and Revenue recounted repeated attempts by Padilla to intervene in the audit of Harold’s Grading & Trucking, spurring calls the fraud hotline.

The charges against Padilla follow a string of corruption scandals involving prominent New Mexico state officials.

Former Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego is serving an 18-month jail sentence for fraud, bribery and other charges stemming from accusations he misused his elected office to profit from a real estate deal.

Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, resigned in 2015 and served 30 days in jail on embezzlement and fraud convictions. She pleaded guilty to spending campaign funds on a gambling spree.

New Mexico voters will decide in November whether to create an independent state ethics commission to review initial complaints against public officials.

Currently, complaints are vetted by partisan elected officials at the attorney general’s office and the secretary of state’s office, while lawmakers probe initial ethics concerns about colleagues.

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