December 4, 2015

Memo asks for no prison time for Duran

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Attorney Erlinda Johnson (l) and her client Dianna Duran (r) awaiting a judge's decision on her plea deal in October, 2015.

According to a memo from her attorney regarding sentencing in a high profile case, former Secretary of State Dianna Duran does not deserve to spend any time in jail.

Dianna Duran after her guilty plea.

Joey Peters

Dianna Duran after her guilty plea.

The memo from attorney Erlinda Johnson says Duran is seeking treatment for gambling and that Duran is unlikely to commit any more crimes.

The Albuquerque Journal was the first to report on the memo, as well as information from the Public Employees Retirement Association that Duran recently received her first pension check of $4,857.56.

Judge Glenn Ellington will review the plea deal and ultimately decide on Duran’s punishment. He said that if there was jail time, he would allow Duran to withdraw her guilty pleas.

Ellington will announce his decision at the Dec. 14 sentencing hearing.

Johnson wrote about Duran’s career in public service and that Duran has expressed that she will no longer gamble at casinos.

Johnson wrote, “Even in the absence of basic human compassion, pure rational analysis reveals that Dianna Duran is but a woman whose unfortunate involvement in the charged offenses is more equitable to miserable and hopeless enslavement to a growing disorder than to anything even remotely resembling legitimate societal menace.”

Duran pleaded guilty to charges related to using campaign finances for personal use. The Attorney General’s office noted that Duran spent a large amount of money in casinos throughout the state.

Later in the memo, Johnson writes about Duran’s “unparalleled remorse” and that “she expresses with conviction that gaming establishments will never again be part of her life.”

The memo claims that “the risk of recidivism is non-existent because Ms. Duran is capable and motivated to rehabilitate.”

The report says that “a period of supervision, upon the imposition of a conditional discharge, is sufficient punishment for her conduct. Indeed, she has suffered great punishment in the form of public deprecation and the fall from grace after a longstanding impeccable career in public service.”

The attorney also slams area casinos.

“Tragically, Ms. Duran eventually fell prey to Casinos’ predatory tactics of ensnaring older women to continue playing their addictive diversions,” Johnson wrote. She also wrote that she gave documents outlining “Ms. Duran’s troubles” but citing HIPAA asked that they not be made public.

Duran’s gambling problems began two and a half years ago when she started to “seek refuge at casinos” after going through “personal hardships.” Duran partook in buying “lines of credit in order to facilitate uninterrupted gambling,” according to the memo.

Interim State Elections Director Kari Fresquez, Acting Secretary of State Mary Quintana, former Albuquerque City Clerk Amy Bailey and many others also wrote letters to the judge about Duran’s character.

While the memo from Johnson repeatedly speaks about Duran’s addiction to gambling, Duran herself would not comment on if she felt she had a gambling program after her guilty plea in October.

From the NM Political Report story on Duran’s comments after her guilty plea:

Duran would not directly address whether she has a gambling problem other than saying she “recently made some poor personal financial decisions and choices of which I’m sorry about.” She emphasized the word “personal” and stated many times that the money she embezzled wasn’t taxpayer money, but rather donations made to her two successful campaigns for secretary of state.

Duran also stated that she’ll be receiving professional help, but would not say what sort of professional help. Johnson also said all that would be addressed in court during an upcoming sentencing hearing.

Debate over pension

The pension itself is a bone of contention among those who believe the plea deal Duran accepted was too lenient on the part of Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office.

Balderas’ office has said the law that strips officials convicted of felonies of fringe benefits is too broadly written.

“The public was misled that lawmakers had passed an aggressive statute intended to properly take away pensions from corrupt officials, yet the inadequate current law doesn’t even mention the word pension and would result in costly litigation for taxpayers,” Attorney General spokesman James Hallinan said in a statement in October following the plea deal.

In the post-guilty plea press conference, Duran said that she was “entitled to my retirement pension, as is any other elected official who has done a good job in their elected capacity.”

Democrats have since vowed to introduce legislation to strip the pension from elected officials who are found guilty of corruption.

Duran emphasized at the time that her legal problems were personal and did not involve her job.

Among the charges Duran pleaded guilty to were two violations of campaign finance law, including failing to accurately report campaign contributions. As Secretary of State, Duran was in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws.

Before becoming Secretary of State, Duran was Otero County Clerk and a state senator. All of these jobs pay into PERA.