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New Mexico's secretary of state faces 65th charge: identity theft

The New Mexico secretary of state, who oversees campaign finance reporting and once bemoaned a "culture of corruption" in the state, has been accused of using her election fund as a personal piggy bank at jewelry stores, ATMs and casinos.

Secretary of State Dianna K. Duran already faces allegations of financial crimes, stemming from a separate August indictment.

Late Friday, the New Mexico attorney general's office alleged in a criminal complaint that Duran also falsified campaign finance reports by forging the name of a former state Senate colleague and claiming him as her campaign treasurer.

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The onetime colleague, Don Kidd, a banker in southeast New Mexico, denied any involvement with Duran's campaigns in 2010 and 2014.

When asked by an investigator with the attorney general's office why she would list him as treasurer, Kidd replied, according to the complaint, "Well, I have no idea. I just don't know, that's amazing."

Duran faces 64 charges related to fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. The attorney general's office alleged that she frequented casinos across the state, withdrawing $430,000 between 2013 and 2014 from her personal accounts while also depositing campaign funds into her personal accounts.

A 65th charge, identity theft, was added Friday after Kidd's interview with an investigator. Duran's attorney could not be reached for comment Saturday.

According to the charges, Duran's first statewide campaign in 2010 was the same year irregularities appeared in her campaign finance disclosure forms.

In 2014, investigators received an anonymous tip about cash deposits into Duran's personal accounts. When they dug deeper, they found large cash and campaign deposits transferred between campaign and personal accounts, according to the criminal complaint.

Some of the suspected violations appear designed to avoid campaign finance reporting requirements, such as a $5,200 check from Mack Energy Corp. that was entered instead as a $2,900 contribution, according to the complaint.

The difference allowed Duran to register Mack Energy's total contribution — it had made other donations as well — as $10,400, the maximum allowed by the state, according to the complaint.

A Republican first elected as secretary of state in 2010, beating out the incumbent Democrat, Duran was part of a tide of conservative elected officials nationwide who won political points by focusing on possible violations of voter ID laws.

She took office in January 2011 and by March had referred 64,000 voter registration records to state police, citing irregularities. Duran then took fire from Democratic legislators, public interest groups and news organizations that said she overstated her case, scared voters and withheld proof of her claims.

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But criticism of Duran largely subsided until Aug. 28 of this year, when the attorney general's office said that for years she had pilfered from her campaign account to cover personal expenses.

She has not stepped aside during the investigation, leading to further speculation about her finances.

"She wants to hang onto her $85,000-a-year job as secretary of state as long as possible," wrote Santa Fe New Mexican political columnist Milan Simonich. "Her record of bank overdrafts explains why."

The state has set aside $250,000 for an impeachment investigation into Duran's activities.

The state's prosecution of its top electoral official will be the earliest and highest-profile test of New Mexico's public corruption law, passed in 2012.

The law permits prosecutors to request an enhanced sentence for any convictions of public corruption and to fine an individual in an amount equal to his or her pay and fringe benefits from the time of the earliest crime. In Duran's case, that would amount to close to $500,000.

Twitter: @nigelduara

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