Former NNMC finance director pleads guilty to embezzlement

Sep. 30—A decade after stealing about $80,000 from Northern New Mexico College, the school's former financial services director Henrietta Trujillo has pleaded guilty to one count of felony embezzlement as part of a plea deal which has been about five years in the making.

She'll be required to pay back the money, spend two years on house arrest with electronic monitoring followed by five years' probation and serve about 384 hours of community service under the terms of her agreement with prosecutors, according to the First Judicial District Attorney's Office.

Trujillo, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced at a hearing in Tierra Amarilla on Thursday, took about $200,000 worth of cash and checks meant to be deposited in the college's bank accounts over two and a half years between 2012 and 2014, according to previous reports and court records. She spent the cash but never deposited or cashed the checks, which totaled about $167,000.

She admitted the theft in 2017, according to a state police report, telling investigators she took the money because she had financial problems, including having her wages garnished for unpaid state taxes and having to help pay for cancer treatments for her mother and sister. She denied having a gambling problem, despite police having verified she spent more than $500,000 at area casinos during the approximately 10-year period she worked for the Española-based college, according to previous reports.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in an email Thursday the plea requires Trujillo to get therapy for gambling addiction.

It took court officials almost five years to agree upon appropriate consequences for the now 66-year-old Corrales woman.

State District Judge Jason Lidyard rejected two plea agreements the District Attorney's Office offered Trujillo in 2019 and 2020, saying they were too lenient in comparison to sentences imposed on other defendants accused of stealing lesser amounts, such as shoplifters.

Trujillo's defense attorney Ben Ortega did not respond to a call seeking comment Thursday. However, he argued in recent court motions Trujillo's health was too fragile for her to do prison time.

"Henrietta Trujillo is infirm; any little thing that happens to her could lead to a disastrous outcome for her," Ortega told The New Mexican in July. "I don't want going to jail to become a death sentence for her health-wise."

Trujillo has hip and knee issues that will require surgery, suffers from anxiety that in the past has caused her to be hospitalized and is the sole caregiver for her husband who has lung disease, according to court records.

The defense lawyer argued in a recent motion house arrest is technically incarceration, and Trujillo's age and health make her unlikely to reoffend.

The plea Lidyard accepted Thursday carries a longer period of electronic monitoring than previous agreements prosecutors had offered Trujillo — calling for Trujillo to spend two years on house arrest and/or electronic monitoring, as opposed to 90 to 182 days as presented under the previous plea proposal.

Jake Arnold, executive director of the NNMC advocacy group La Sociedad Venceslao Jaramillo, named for the college's founder, asked the judge to reject the deal.

He and others college supporters thought some jail time would have been appropriate for Trujillo and wanted to see the case go to trial in hopes evidence presented there would cast some light on how she was able to divert the money undetected for such a long time, he said Thursday.

But, Arnold said, the group was pleased the judge emphasized Trujillo is expected to stay at home while serving her sentence with only limited exceptions for leaving her home, such as medical appointments.

Northern New Mexico College interim President Barbara Medina said the school looks forward to using the restitution money to support needy students.

"It's a sad chapter in Northern's history but we want to move forward and continue to support our students," she said.