FORT SUMNER, N.M. (KRQE) – For New Mexicans in one part of the state, going to the MVD wasn’t just a hassle. They were getting taken for a ride.
People in Fort Sumner, a village about 60 miles west of Clovis, knew something wasn’t right.
“I don’t know what happened, but it was a mess,” Belinda Sursa said.
“I have no doubt that I was ripped off,” Brenda Crocker said.
Two city workers landed behind bars, charged with embezzling a total of more than $40,000 from the very people they were hired to serve.
“Ultimately the law caught up with them,” said New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas.
It took more than a year.
“It did take time to get there, and I understand that. It took a little over a year because there were so many records to go through,” Chief Kassetas said.
In that time, residents, like Brenda Crocker, say they were left in the dark.
“They refuse to discuss anything with us as victims. They refuse to help us make anything right. They won’t even inform us,” she said.
That’s what Crocker said in December. Those concerns were even echoed by the mayor when KRQE News 13 stopped by his office.
“For a year now, we have gotten no more than, ‘It’s coming,’” said Fort Sumner Mayor Justin Ingram. “We don’t know what ‘it’ is.”
The first sign of trouble came in December 2016.
The Fort Sumner MVD office at City Hall closed unexpectedly after the village called State Police about odd transactions.
Police launched an investigation.
Meanwhile, residents had to find somewhere else to get their MVD business taken care of. This happened shortly after the Real ID changes went into effect, which required people to go to the MVD in person to renew a driver’s license instead of doing it online.
“To even get your driver’s license, you gotta take all your paperwork and go to Melrose or Santa Rosa,” Sursa said.
“Most of us are going to Clovis, which is a 60-mile drive one-way. You’re getting a number and waiting in line all day,” Crocker said.
What’s worse—when they did make the drive, they ran into more problems.
For instance, Sursa said she sold her truck to a friend, who paid for the title and registration more than a year ago.
“But when she goes over this year to renew ’em, it still belongs to me!”
Crocker got a similar response when she tried to renew the registration on a car she bought for her daughter.
“I was informed this car doesn’t even belong to you. The tags are bogus, the title’s bogus, the registration’s bogus,” she said.
That came as a shock since she had paid $265 for it all at the Fort Sumner MVD back in 2015.
At the time, village employee Alisha Segura worked there. In 2016, Tianna Gallegos joined her.
A State Police investigation now reveals both women admitted to stealing from people, voiding transactions for registrations and titles when customers paid in cash and pocketing the money instead.
Police said Gallegos told them that when she started the job, Segura told her what she had been doing and showed her how to void the transactions and keep the money.
“They saw an opening. They took it and not realizing that there’s ramifications for that,” Chief Kassetas said.
Segura is charged with embezzling more than $32,000 while Gallegos is charged with embezzling more than $9,000.
According to police, Gallegos said she was pregnant at the time and needed money and that she did it for the thrill, that it was almost like gambling.
The state told KRQE News 13 the women targeted about 200 people, affecting 550 transactions over the span of about a year.
While the Village of Fort Sumner employed the women, the state is in charge of training them to conduct state business at the village-run MVD office.
“What kind of oversight does MVD have over these offices?” KRQE News 13 asked Ben Cloutier, the Director of Communications for the Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division.
“So, in the past, obviously, some of these things were slipping through the cracks. Now, we have a new computer system in place where we do basically daily audits of our transactions,” he said.
Cloutier said the new system requires a manager somewhere else in the state to look for mistakes and wrongdoing in hopes of catching problems sooner.
However, Crocker said she’s still struggling to get the MVD to correct the problems this latest crime caused.
“I want a good title. A title that I can actually do something with the car,” she explained.
Crocker said since purchasing the car more than two years ago, she’s had to get three titles—two within about a week of each other. And, she said, her title is still inaccurate.
The original title showed the 2006 Ford Mustang was first registered in 2006. That makes sense.
However, she said, since the city worker voided that title, replacements have been riddled with mistakes. For instance, her most recent title states that her 2006 car was never registered until just last year.
“I do have a problem with it because if we went to sell it and left any papers or anything that showed that we had insurance on it prior to the purchase date, it’s gonna make it look like an iffy car,” Crocker said.
“We’re gonna work with every customer that was affected by these individuals to make them whole, and we’re happy to work with those customers that need help, assistance,” Cloutier said. “We have a hotline available.”
Following the interview, Cloutier sent KRQE News 13 this phone number for victims: 888-683-4636 or 888-MVD-INFO
It appears to be the standard customer service line listed on the MVD’s website.
Crocker said that after half an hour on the phone last week, the person on the other line didn’t know anything about the problem in Fort Sumner and told her she had to make another trip to her nearest MVD office, which, as mentioned, is pretty far away.
“It’s been over a year that they haven’t had an MVD office there. What would you like to say to people who are frustrated about that?” KRQE News 13 asked Cloutier.
“We absolutely understand your frustration,” he responded.
He said the state is working with De Baca County, not the village, to open a new office in Fort Sumner.
That announcement and news of the arrests have victims hopeful they’re at least on the road to justice now.
The MVD said any victim who had to pay to correct their title or registration that was improperly voided would be reimbursed.
Mayor Ingram said the village let go of one of the suspects, Gallegos, after the investigation started because she was still in her probationary period.
He said Segura was put in a different role for the past year where she wouldn’t be around money.
The mayor didn’t think he could fire her until she was charged.
She has now been fired.