Federal prosecutors increasing career criminal prosecution efforts

Federal courthouse downtown Albuquerque
Federal courthouse downtown Albuquerque (Carey Olson KRQE)

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New Mexico’s federal prosecutors are working toward ramping up efforts to lock up career criminals even faster.

It comes as 28-year old Andrew Romero faces federal gun charges in the recent murder of Rio Rancho Police officer Gregg Benner. The case is getting a lot of attention because of Romero’s long criminal history and a question from many as to how Romero kept getting out from behind bars over and over again.

In hopes to find repeat criminals faster, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico says it’s expanding its “worst of the worst” program in a way that should help identify repeat offenders and get them off the street faster.

“There’s certain individuals that pose such a danger to the community,” said Damon Martinez, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico.

There is a long list of career criminals on the U.S. Attorney’s Office that are part of the so-called “worst of the worst” program. The federal program is designed to file federal charges against repeat criminals So far in 2015, 18 people have been charged under the program.

Convicted killer Chris Blattner is one of those people. He’s now facing 30 years for federal gun and drug charges.

A man accused of shooting an APD officer, Christopher Cook is another person now facing federal gun charges in the program. Then there’s Andrew Romero, who’s accused of killing Rio Rancho Police officer Gregg Benner. Romero is facing federal gun charges.

The “worst of the worst” is comprised of a lot of people that the federal U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico wants to see kept off the streets.

“It’s important for us to identify who creates a substantial danger to the community,” said Martinez.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been running the program for the last four years, since 2011.

“If you can get a mandatory minimum lets say 15 years, that mean that that individual will be out of the community,” said Martinez.

However, many have raised concern about how officer Gregg Benner’s accused killer Andrew Romero was out on the streets, being that he has such a long violent criminal history.

While that discussion continues, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says it’s now expanding the reach of the “worst of the worst” program.

“We’re trying to make it better,” said Martinez.

Soon, the office will hire a liaison to specifically work with local New Mexico police and prosecutors to find repeat criminals faster.

“We’re going to have more of an idea of what cases are out there,” said Martinez.

Federal officials with the FBI and the ATF believe having that dedicated person to help identify repeat criminal will make a big difference.

“It’s usually the same individuals are committing these crimes,” said Joel Marquez, Agent in Charge for the ATF in Albuquerque.

“It’s not going to get better unless we do is coordinated in a strategic way and we do it together,” said Carol Lee, the Special Agent in Charge for the FBI in New Mexico.

In addition to the new liaison in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, they’re also in the process of training several new assistant district attorneys throughout the state to work directly with the Feds part time.

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