SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – A mayoral candidate in a New Mexico border town says video of a topless woman dancing in his office is a setup orchestrated by political rivals who wanted to force him out of the race.
Gerardo Hernandez's claims of dirty politics are the latest scandals to rock Sunland Park, a city seen as so tainted that a House representative has called for the state to takeover.
Hernandez told KVIA-TV this week that he was in his office with his campaign manager and a job applicant when an unidentified woman began to dance for the three of them, topless.
And all the while, Hernandez says, he was being taped without his knowledge.
"She started dancing, and she was suggestive," said Hernandez, who claimed the woman was a guest of the man he was considering hiring.
Hernandez maintains he is the target of a setup by his opponent Daniel Salinas. Hernandez told the Las Cruces Sun-News that he was at his campaign booth near City Hall about a week ago when he and some supporters were approached by an unknown man in his late 20s.
Hernandez says the man told him that "some merchants in the area want you out of the race."
The man then threatened to leak a sex video involving Hernandez if he refused to bow out.
"He said, 'If you don't withdraw, we're going to have to release the video,"' said Hernandez, who denies the existence of a sex video. "I said, `I guess you're going to have to release the video."'
Salinas denies any involvement and said he's not under investigation for extortion.
"(Hernandez) is going come up with a lot of excuses," said Salinas. "He's a married man. So I'd be thinking of a couple of excuses and try to blame this on different people and trying to make up my little story."
Meanwhile, state police investigators armed with a search warrant temporarily shut down Sunland Park City Hall.
City Manager Jaime Aguilera said police were looking for video evidence from surveillance cameras pointed at the parking lot, but the district attorney's office has not confirmed whether the sex tape allegations are connected to the raid. The details of the search warrant are sealed by a court order.
This isn't the first time authorities have investigated Sunland Park politics.
New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran last month launched a review of the city's election practices after receiving a complaint from Hernandez, who alleged that absentee voting applications were improperly withheld. City officials deny the charge.
Hernandez is one of three candidates vying to replace Mayor Martin Resendiz, who last year withdrew his bid for Congress after acknowledging signing contracts for $1 million worth of work with an architectural design firm after having too much to drink with company executives. In a lawsuit, the California company Synthesis+ said the mayor then asked for a donation when it came calling for payment.
The mayor has not commented on the allegations, but in a deposition in the case he told lawyers he was drunk and didn't know what he was signing.
A few months later, Resendiz nearly came to blows with the mayor pro tem after members questioned his absence and his approval of a $47,000 buyout for the city manager.
After that meeting, state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, called for the state to takeover of the town.