ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Residents in a small pocket of Albuquerque claim one of their neighbors has been quietly pocketing their money for years. Now, the alleged victims hope a fresh look at the case may bring about some justice.
There’s something bothering a quiet northeast Albuquerque subdivision near Edith and Paseo, where neighbors claim their cries for help have gone unanswered for years. That is, until now.
Desiree Pepin, former president of the Los Colinas Homeowners Association, was arraigned on felony embezzlement and forgery charges more than three years after her neighbors took their case to Bernalillo County Sheriff’s detectives.
“It’s an excellent paper trail we have, we figured it’d be wrapped up pretty quickly, so it was extra frustrating when they kept stringing us along and not doing anything,” explained Konrad Dzula, current President of the Los Colinas HOA.
According to a civil complaint, as HOA President from 2002 to 2014, Pepin collected $30 membership dues from residents each month. Eventually, neighbors said they started receiving invoices with added fees.
“There was a pattern of this for like about six months where we would go from owing $30 to $180 and we didn’t know why,” said Matt Angel.
“We don’t count the same apparently,” Thomas Tinoco recalled. He’s also a member of the Los Colinas HOA.
Things took a turn when longtime resident Tinoco said his bill from Pepin was simply outrageous. “The last statement that I got in 2013 was for $92,000 that I owed. This is on $30 monthly payments,” he explained.
When asked what his reaction to the invoice was, Tinoco responded, “I wasn’t gonna pay it.”
Tinoco said the $92,720.64 bill came with a threat typed at the bottom of the invoice. “All accounts unpaid after 90 days will be sent to collections,” the document stated. “All accounts unpaid after 120 days will have a LIEN placed on their property.”
“You can say somebody was attempting to scam a senior citizen,” said Tinoco.
Neighbors said others who got less outrageous bills did pay up. “I did have a friend who’s two houses down from me, he’d gotten a bill for $900 and she was threatening that they’re gonna put a lien on his house so he paid it up not knowing,” Angel said.
When people realized they weren’t the only ones with billing discrepancies, they started asking questions. Neighbors became their own investigators.
An outside management company was later hired, and when Dzula was appointed HOA President in 2014 he said he finally got access to HOA banking statements.
“We saw that the ones she submitted to the management company were incomplete and what’s worse is they were altered,” Dzula told KRQE News 13.
Checks they’d thought Pepin wrote for HOA expenses, Dzula said, were actually written to herself.
In one example, a check for $60 to USPS stated it was for stamps. Dzula said the same check number from the bank shows the money actually went to ‘Desiree Pepin.’
The same thing happened with a $95 check. One copy shows it’s for a hired landscaper, while another shows Pepin’s signature.
“It was just a real kick in the face,” said Angel. “Every other check was written to herself.”
HOA dues are supposed to pay for things like landscaping, maintenance, and water bills for common areas. “The water department filed several liens,” said Dzula.
Neighbors pieced together the puzzle and compiled binders of documents to show investigators. However, after their assigned BCSO detective retired and the case went nowhere in court, frustrations mounted.
Then a couple months ago, District Attorney Raúl Torrez’s office decided to move the case forward and charged Pepin with felony embezzlement and forgery.
“A lot of this is a bookkeeping issue quite frankly,” said Nicole Moss, Pepin’s attorney. In court during Pepin’s arraignment, Moss chalked up the charges to poor accounting and an ugly neighborhood dispute.
“She’s certainly no threat to anybody,” Moss told the judge.
After her arraignment, Pepin wasn’t interested in sharing her side with KRQE News 13.
Online court records show this isn’t the first time Pepin’s been in trouble. Court records show she was convicted of forgery, fraud, and filing false insurance claims in 2003.
Court records also show Pepin was on probation, ordered to pay restitution to insurance companies during the same time she served as HOA president.
In 2014, Pepin, a hair stylist, was taken to court for owing $15,000 in rent on her hair salon. That case was dismissed after the landlord missed a court date.
While this case winds its way through court, Pepin’s neighbors claim they’re still paying the price.
Tinoco told KRQE News 13 the HOA is forced to pay back at least one neighbor a $30 credit each month for funds he overpaid when Pepin was in charge.
“He was able to prove that he paid all this and he was owed back $30 a month for I think what was $600 worth of late fees,” Tinoco said.
“It’s our community, it’s the neighborhood – her neighbors she did this to,” Dzula said.
Pepin’s criminal case is still slow-moving. Her attorney filed a motion to delay her book and release date. She’s supposed to turn herself in next week to be booked on the most recent charges.
The HOA is also taking Pepin to court in a civil suit for more than $50,000. That case is still pending.
- 2003 Sentencing of Pepin
- HOA Civil Complaint
- Defendant’s answer to civil complaint
- Tinoco HOA Invoice