Embezzlement case moves forward against ex-NM tax official

November 2, 2018
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FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2014 file photo, Demesia Padilla, the former Cabinet Secretary with State Revenue and Taxation Department, left, and former Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, listen to the audiences during a committee meeting at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe. Padilla on Thursday, June 28, 2018 was charged with embezzlement, and multiple corruption and ethics violations stemming from her time as Cabinet secretary. Former Taxation and Revenue Department secretary Padilla is scheduled to appear Monday, Oct. 27, 2018, in state court for a hearing on whether evidence is sufficient for a trail to go forward. (Jane Phillips/The Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An embezzlement case against New Mexico’s former top-ranked taxation official is headed toward trial after a judge ruled on Friday that there was sufficient evidence to proceed.

Felony charges of embezzlement and using a position in government for personal gain were upheld against former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, according to David Carl, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.

Magistrate judge Donna Bevacqua-Young made the ruling after five days of witness testimony. The judge also upheld several misdemeanor charges linked to state ethics laws, while a second embezzlement charge was dropped.

Defense attorney Paul Kennedy declined to comment on the proceedings. Padilla has not entered a plea.

Padilla was the state’s top tax official for five years under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. She resigned in 2016 after a law enforcement raid on tax department offices.

Complaints to a fraud hotline at the state auditor’s office and unsigned letters from state employees prompted the investigation.

The attorney general’s office led by Democrat Hector Balderas alleges that Padilla advocated for Harold’s Grading & Trucking — a client of the accounting firm where Padilla once worked. Those and other actions resulted in a reduction of Padilla’s own tax liability, state prosecutors say.

She also is accused of making unauthorized transfers totaling $25,360 from the trucking firm’s bank to her credit card account.

The allegations against Padilla are the latest in a string of high-profile corruption cases in state government in recent years.

Former Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego is serving prison time for convictions on fraud, bribery, perjury, embezzlement and felony ethical violations after using his position as a lawmaker to profit from the sale of a state-owned building in Santa Fe.

Republican Dianna Duran resigned as secretary of state in 2015 amid revelations she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction. That led to her conviction on felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering.

New Mexico voters are deciding in next week’s election whether to create an independent statewide ethics commission to change the way ethical violations against public officials are initially reported and evaluated.

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