Facing 65 criminal counts, embattled New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran (R) resigned early Friday morning, and then pleaded guilty to 6 of the 65 charges. Duran pleaded guilty to two felony counts of embezzlement and four misdemeanor offenses.
Duran ran into legal trouble over allegations that she embezzled campaign funds for her own personal use, and spent those funds gambling at eight different casinos. She apparently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at casinos, of which 19 transactions totaling around 13,000 dollars were traced back to money she pilfered from her campaign account.
On Friday morning, however, Duran chose not to gamble with her freedom, by sticking with a risky high stakes “not guilty” plea. Instead, she recognized she was playing a losing hand, and cut her losses by pleading guilty to just a handful of the 65 charges she faced.
The agreement could permit Duran to avoid jail time and to keep her pension. As a convicted felon she will be barred from voting. The Attorney General’s office has recommended a sentence of five years supervised probation. In addition, she will be required to pay back nearly 14,000 dollars to the political donors she ripped off.
Ironically, Duran was first elected in 2010, by running on a promise to fight corruption and to run “a scandal-free Secretary of State’s office.” Instead, she only reinforced New Mexico’s reputation for political corruption, eclipsing the misdeeds of her political predecessors.
In response to Duran’s resignation and guilty plea, New Mexico’s Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) stated:
After today, citizens can be confident that Dianna Duran will no longer have supervisory control of public funds or the reporting process within the Secretary of State’s Office. I am hopeful that this resolution will begin to rebuild the public trust and compel the new leadership to improve oversight and compliance in our campaign finance system and electoral process.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez will appoint a replacement for Duran. Then in November of 2016, New Mexico will have an opportunity to elect a new Secretary of State. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D), who narrowly lost to Duran in 2014, would be an ideal candidate for Democrats to get behind in 2016. Hopefully, New Mexico voters will have the good sense to elect her on the second go around, because obviously voting for Duran was a colossal mistake.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.