Ex-New Mexico official gets 30 days in campaign finance case

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, file photo, former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran listens to prosecutors during a motions hearing in Santa Fe, N.M. Duran is due in court Monday, Dec. 14, to be sentenced on charges related to a campaign finance scandal that she has blamed on a gambling addiction. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran received 30 days of a 7.5-year sentence Monday for siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction in a case that has led to calls for a major overhaul of the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws.

Duran pleaded guilty in October to a felony embezzlement charge and four misdemeanor counts while resigning from office under an agreement with state prosecutors that allowed her to avoid jail time. District Judge T. Glenn Ellington handed down the final sentence Monday in a packed Santa Fe courtroom.

Duran’s lawyer was given until noon Wednesday to decide whether to withdraw her plea because the sentence included jail time.

He also ordered her to pay restitution $14,000 and serve five years of probation.

Earlier, Duran made a tearful plea for leniency.

Choking back tears, Duran said she was truly sorry.

“I’ll 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.”

A former state senator from Tularosa, Duran had sought leniency in court filings, citing undisclosed personal hardships and a worsening gambling disorder. A mental health assessment was submitted to the court and has been kept under seal.

Defense attorney Erlinda Johnson said her client’s gambling problem dates to 2010, the year she became the first Republican elected to the secretary of state’s office since 1928. Johnson has said the gambling spiraled out of control in 2012 and 2013.

State Sen. Bill Sharer also asked the judge to be lenient, saying Duran cared about her constituents and that she didn’t take taxpayer money. The Republican lawmaker said Duran already has paid a high price by losing her reputation and her dream of being a public servant.

Duran ran to be the state’s top elections official on a platform of eliminating voter fraud. She was re-elected last year.

The case led to legislative proposals to increase penalties for public officials convicted of corruption and expand campaign finance disclosures and oversight.

The secretary of state’s office is charged with overseeing and enforcing New Mexico’s elections and campaign finance laws. Some residents have left phone messages and sent letters to the judge expressing frustration and calling for a stiff sentence for Duran.

Others, including U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, have suggested that the judge consider Duran’s decades of public service when imposing a punishment.

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