New Mexico Attorney General pushes for school board felon’s resignation

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A northern New Mexico school board member who’s accused of illegally holding public office is now facing a new ultimatum: resign or face the law.

KRQE News 13 has obtained new documents that show the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is stepping in, giving West Las Vegas School Board member Anthony Leroy Benavidez two weeks to decide his future.

Benavidez’s criminal history has overshadowed West Las Vegas Schools’ Board of Education for the last month. As KRQE News 13 reported in late March, state law indicates that Benavidez is serving on the board illegally.

Under New Mexico statute chapter 31, article 13, section 1, paragraph, “E,” state law says convicted felons cannot serve in “positions of public trust” without a pardon from the New Mexico Governor’s Office. Benavidez does not have a pardon.

According to online New Mexico state court records, Anthony Leroy Benavidez has a 2002 conviction on his record for felony drug possession.

Benavidez has been sitting on the West Las Vegas School’s Board of Education since March 2015.

Documents obtained by KRQE News 13 show that the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Benavidez Tuesday saying if the board member doesn’t step aside, he could face both criminal charges and civil sanctions.

>>READ: NM Attorney General’s letter to Anthony Leroy Benavidez.

In a recent interview with KRQE News 13, Benavidez said he refused to resign because he wanted to, “finish what (he) started.”

“If my constituents keep on telling me not to… well, no, I won’t,” said Benavidez, speaking of the prospect of resigning based on the allegations against him.

According to the letter sent by the AG’s Office to Benavidez, if Benavidez is found to be holding his office illegally by April 20th, state prosecutors may file “criminal or civil sanctions.”

The Attorney General's letter to Benavidez calls for the board member's resignation by April 20, 2016.
The Attorney General’s letter to Benavidez calls for the board member’s resignation by April 20, 2016.

“If allegations raised are in fact true, and you are ineligible to hold public office, you have a personal obligation to abdicate your position and avoid jeopardizing actions by the board. Our review of this matter will remain ongoing. If allegations are true, and your status does not change on or before April 20, 2016, our office will assess what civil or criminal action may be necessary to enforce state law and protect public trust.”

–Tania Maestas
Deputy Attorney General Open Government Division Director, Attorney General of New Mexico

Benavidez has known since January 2016 that his criminal history likely makes his school board service illegal. The matter came to light when West Las Vegas Schools’ attorneys first contacted the school board chair, David Romero. Romero says he addressed the matter in private with Benavidez, however, Benavidez chose not to resign. Romero also chose not to tell the other school board members over the next two months.

The rest of the school board was notified of Benavidez’s background in March 2016, two months after the district’s attorney first raised the matter. However, despite some objections, Benavidez is still refusing to resign.

“I’ll serve as long as they take me to court, then once they take me to court I’ll step down,” said Benavidez in a recent interview with KRQE News 13.

Some fellow school board members say they’re still concerned that Benavidez’s continued participation in the board’s activities and board votes could ultimately hurt the schools they work for.

“You know, we don’t want something to go amiss because of this or we lose funding because of it,” said Marvin Martinez, the Vice Chair of the West Las Vegas Schools Board of Education.

KRQE News 13 attempted to contact Benavidez for comment on Tuesday, however, someone at his home told us he “wasn’t available.” That same person also claimed that Benavidez had not received a copy of the letter from the New Mexico Attorney General. KRQE News 13 Special Assignment Reporter Chris McKee even read part of the letter to the person on the phone, however, they still had no comment.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office provided this statement:

“If Board Member Benavidez falsely certified that he was eligible to be a candidate for School Board, he must resign immediately. The integrity of our school administrations and the safety of our children and teachers in New Mexico schools are paramount, and this office will enforce the law to ensure those ends.”

–Hector Balderas, Attorney General of New Mexico.

In relation to the Benavidez matter, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office also sent a letter to the West Las Vegas Schools Board of Education on Tuesday. The secondary letter warns school board members that entering an executive session (a closed public meeting) of the board to speak about matters related to Benavidez would likely be a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Initially, West Las Vegas Schools Board of Education was advised by the school district’s attorneys to take care of the matter surrounding Benavidez’s criminal history in private.

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