Oct. 20—Santa Fe City Council candidate Rebecca Romero said she didn't register to vote until 2016, when she was 32.
"I didn't think my vote counted," she said. "I saw politics in a different way."
She said she has since realized "every vote does count."
But Romero, who said she pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of embezzlement, forgery and credit card fraud in 2006, wasn't eligible to vote after the convictions until at least 2014, when court records show she completed her probation.
Romero, 37, a management analyst with the state government, is running against Santa Fe Public Schools Special Education Director Amanda Chavez for the City Council District 4 seat, which is being vacated by mayoral candidate JoAnne Vigil Coppler.
In an interview Tuesday, Romero said the criminal charges in her past — filed in two counties — were "not me."
"I can tell you that it was the wrong place, wrong time, wrong situation," she said.
Court documents for one of the cases against her were not available online, and court officials did not provide them Tuesday.
Romero, who was charged under her maiden name, Rebecca Ridgeway, said it involved embezzlement allegations and stemmed from her job with Kirby Vacuums in Sandoval County.
She was 22 at the time and working as a door-to-door saleswoman, and got "caught up" in ongoing criminal acts at the business, Romero said, adding someone with the company had signed her name to false contracts.
"The company I had started with literally was already sketchy as it was," she said. "They made it seem like I would make hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was the wrong company to get involved with."
Her public defender did not help her fight the charges and instead pushed her to sign a plea deal, Romero said. "I didn't know my options because I was still super young. I just signed a plea agreement not knowing what I was signing."
She offered a similar explanation for a second case filed around the same time, in which she faced credit card fraud and forgery charges. Her boyfriend was "doing something he shouldn't have been doing with credit cards," Romero said.
She was charged as an accomplice.
"I was in a bad relationship where I got caught up with somebody that I shouldn't have," Romero said. "I had a public defender. I didn't realize I could have fought the charges and got my innocence cleared."
According to an arrest warrant affidavit and other court documents, Romero was accused of cashing multiple checks in other people's names at various banks across Santa Fe County.
The affidavit says she told Santa Fe County sheriff's deputies she had received the checks from a friend but didn't know where the friend had gotten them. She was four months' pregnant at the time, she said, and her friends kept getting her into trouble.
At the time of the interview, deputies discovered she had four other fraud cases pending with both the Santa Fe Police Department and the sheriff's office.
She pleaded guilty to nine crimes in Santa Fe County in 2006 and was ordered to pay $14,729.88 in restitution, court records show.
James Hallinan — who served as a spokesman for Romero's campaign until he stepped down from the position Tuesday evening — said he was unsure if she had finished paying restitution.
Romero said she has remained a law-abiding citizen, aside from a few speeding tickets, since she completed her probation in 2014.
Court records also show a few citations for having no proof of insurance.
Hallinan said she received a qualified discharge after completing her probation, which restored her voting rights. According to voting record data from the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office, Romero voted eight times between 2016 and 2021.
The only qualification to run for a City Council seat is to live within the district, be at least 18 and be registered to vote.
Hallinan said he believed Mayor Alan Webber's reelection campaign had dug up Romero's criminal past to help support her competitor.
"The mayor wants his council candidate to toe the line," Hallinan said. "And she [Romero] will not toe the line for him."
Sandra Wechsler, Webber's campaign manager, said the accusation was "100 percent not true."
Hallinan later said he had resigned from serving as Romero's spokesman.
Romero casts herself as a public safety-oriented candidate focused on improving relationships between police and city workers, the City Council and the city's administration.
When asked whether she was concerned voters would take issue with her past charges related to financial impropriety, she said handling money would not be an issue for her.
"I was still a child. Now I am in my late 30s," Romero said. "I have a different mindset and a different outlook on where I want to go with my life."
She said she would like to show District 4 residents they can rebound from a bad situation.
"It's not something I choose to be proud of, but it is something I do choose to learn from," Romero said.
Writer Robert Nott of The New Mexican contributed to this story.