Bill to increase penalties for human trafficking and expand sex offender registration clears House

A bill that supporters say will get tough on human trafficking and expand who has to register as a sex offender in the state took another step forward Saturday when the House chamber passed it unanimously. There was no debate on the bill on the House floor and it passed 66-0. HB 237 expands the definition of human trafficking to include “harboring, maintaining, patronizing and providing” people for such purposes. It also raises the age definition of “child” from 16 to 18 in cases of forced sex work. It removes the statute of limitations for human trafficking for prosecution.

Human trafficking bill with broad support moves forward

A bill that would increase penalties for human trafficking received bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. HB 237, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Georgene Louis and Liz Thomson, both of Albuquerque, passed 10-1. Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, voted against it. Louis and Thomson invited victims of trafficking to speak on behalf of the bill.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session. There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session. Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.

State Land Office cancels grazing lease to company owned by Epstein

The State Land Office announced the cancellation of grazing leases to a company owned by  Jeffrey Epstein, the now-deceased disgraced financier who committed suicide before facing trial for sexual misconduct charges. The leases surrounded Zorro Ranch, his 10,000 acre northern New Mexico compound that he owned since 1993. State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said “this land was no doubt used to protect the privacy of Epstein and his co-conspirators, and today we took steps to take back this public land.”

Garcia Richard cited three reasons to cancel the leases of 1,234 acres of state trust land to a company called Cypress Inc.

“First, the Ranch’s obstruction of my access to inspect state trust land. Second, a written misrepresentation by Cypress that does not comply with State Land Office leasing requirements,” she said. “And finally, the Attorney General has concluded that Cypress may have obtained the leases through illegitimate means for purposes other than ranching or agriculture.”

The notice means the cancellation can become effective in 30 days, or on Oct.

No Epstein indictment here, for now

Investigators with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office plan to turn over any information they gather about alleged sex crimes committed here by Jeffrey Epstein to federal prosecutors “as soon as possible,” a spokesman for the AG says. That means, for now, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ team is working as fact-gatherer for the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, where Epstein pleaded not guilty last week to charges of sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking conspiracy, says Matt Baca, senior counsel for Balderas’ office. Mug shot of Jeffrey Epstein made available by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, taken following his indictment for soliciting a prostitute in 2006

“At this point it’s primarily been communication between the two offices,” Baca tells Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth on Wednesday. “As soon as we’re done, or at a place where we feel like we have significant investigative materials to turn over to them, we plan to do that.”

He says the AG isn’t working on an indictment here, but noted “nothing is off the table in terms of possible state-level charges.”

Baca confirms that “two or more” women have told prosecutors in New Mexico they are victims of Epstein, who owns the massive Zorro Ranch in southern Santa Fe County. The AG’s office began investigating allegations against Epstein in “February or March,” he says, independent from the SDNY investigation.

AG looking into potential Epstein crimes committed in NM

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office is looking into whether convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein committed crimes in New Mexico. 

The newly renewed attention on the New York financier came after investigative work by the Miami Herald—and resulted in new federal charges on sex trafficking charges. Thanks to a sweetheart deal from Alex Acosta, who announced Friday morning that he would resign from his position as U.S. Labor Secretary amid criticism of the plea deal, Epstein only served 13 months in county jail, and was granted work release. The deal was kept sealed, including from his victims.

Last week, the federal government charged Epstein with sex trafficking. The indictment says Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his home in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.” In addition to the homes listed by prosecutors, Epstein owned, and perhaps still owns, Zorro Ranch in New Mexico. And that ranch is where Balderas’ office is looking into allegations.

Martinez won’t donate campaign funds from domestic abuser

Susana Martinez will not return campaign donations from a man convicted of domestic abuse, a spokesman for the governor told the Albuquerque Journal earlier this week. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, brought up the donations on Monday, days before the end of the legislative session. The news of Hiles’ domestic abuse and donation to Martinez was first revealed in New Mexico by New Mexico In Depth. Hiles also made significant donations to Advance New Mexico Now, a high profile PAC that helped Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. Hiles’ donations became an issue because the treasurer of Advance New Mexico Now PAC, Matthew Chandler, was in front of the Senate on confirmation to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.