SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) – A Socorro County employee is accused of forcing an inmate to help him acquire stolen items, and according to the sheriff’s office, it happened while he was on the clock and in a county truck.
It’s common for inmates to leave prison to go help with county projects, like cleaning the sides of roads. But detectives with the Socorro County Sheriff’s Office say an inmate and the former director of the Solid Waste Department were not working and instead were out breaking the law.
“We had some pictures,” Detective Richard Lopez said. “They showed a county vehicle showing up to a house, an inmate getting out of that vehicle, walking up to the door and that pretty much started the investigation.”
Those pictures, taken last month, led Detective Lopez to launch an investigation involving a female inmate and former Solid Waste and Facilities Director Mike Jojola.
Jojola worked for the county for 31 years, and served as the Director of Solid Waste for nearly six.
“When we questioned that inmate about what was going on, she went ahead and told us several things that had been occurring. She was on work release and we ended up finding some criminal activity on the part of Jojola,” Detective Lopez said.
She told detectives she helped Jojola find someone to steal $150 worth of tools from Walmart. According to the criminal complaint, Jojola paid the man around $60.
“This would all occur while he was on county time, in a county vehicle, using a county phone and with an inmate who was assigned to somebody else,” Detective Lopez said.
According to Detective Lopez, another county employee had checked-out the female inmate from the Socorro County Detention Center.
“That other county worker was in charge of her, but again, that county worker is supervised by Mr. Jojola, so he has to do what he’s told,” he said.
The female inmate also told detectives Jojola made sexual advances at her and threatened that if she told anyone, he would “make sure she would not get out on work release.”
According to County Manager Delilah Walsh, Jojola was placed on administrative leave on May 30. He resigned the next day.
“I can understand how this would be shocking to see; a department head having violations, but Socorro County is very, very, very committed to making sure we hold all of our employees to a very high standard,” Walsh said.
That’s why the county launched its own investigation but didn’t finish it due to Jojola’s resignation.
“In that sense, that’s the biggest action you can have is termination of employment,” she said.
KRQE News 13 asked Walsh if this was an example of the county being a good steward of public funds.
“I would think the county as a whole, absolutely,” Walsh responded. “The employee, sounds like they did not make the correct decision.”
Walsh said the county is in the middle of reviewing its inmate work program. Until that review is completed, no county employee is allowed to check-out an inmate.
Jojola faces several charges, including a felony count of embezzlement and intimidation of a witness.
Detective Lopez said the investigation remains open because others involved could soon be charged.
“I’ve seen how this inmate work programs is. This was just one guy doing it wrong, but there’s a lot of people who are doing it right,” Detective Lopez said. “It’s such a big investigation because we’re looking to see how far back this goes and has this happened in the past?”