Disgraced N.M. official ordered to spend five years apologizing to donors, students

New Mexico's disgraced former secretary of state has until Wednesday to accept a sentence that combines a month in jail with a five-year-long mea culpa involving in-person apologies to campaign donors and appearances before school children across the state.

Dianna Duran, once among the state's highest-ranking elected officials, has pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges for siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction, though she can still withdraw her pleas because the sentence delivered Monday included jail time.

The case that has led to calls for an overhaul of New Mexico's campaign finance and ethics laws.

District Judge T. Glenn Ellington told a packed courtroom in Santa Fe that Duran's sentence was designed to go beyond simple punishment or mercy to provide personal rehabilitation and restore public faith in officials holding public office.

Duran must hand-deliver letters of apology to political donors, write another letter to the citizens of New Mexico, perform thousands of hours of community service and make at least four public appearances each month for the next three years to share her story with school children and civic groups.

"You will speak to students about government," Ellington said. "You will speak to students about how your life's pursuit of a career in government was cut short.

"I believe it's a start in restoring the faith the public has in the office of the secretary of state and in the other candidates that seek public office."

If Duran rejects the sentence, the court would reinstate a 65-count criminal complaint alleging Duran mingled campaign and personal funds as she made cash withdrawals in 2012 and 2013 of more than $400,000 at various New Mexico casinos.

Under the sentence, Duran would wear a GPS tracking device for at least two years after leaving jail to ensure she stays away from casinos.

Ellington said political officials in New Mexico who have been convicted of crimes have been allowed for too long to disappear into anonymity after serving prison time.

Duran's transgressions were special, the judge said, because she violated campaign finance laws that she was entrusted to uphold.

Ellington initially ordered a 7.5 year prison sentence then suspended all but 30 days of it. He denied a motion that would have allowed Duran to spend time with her family over the holidays and told her to report to jail on Friday.

He also ordered Duran to pay a $14,000 fine, make restitution of nearly $14,000 to campaign donors, serve five years of probation and perform 2,000 hours of community service at charities.

Duran's public pension of nearly $60,000 a year will remain intact, despite a 2012 law that allows judges to increase sentences against the value of salary and fringe benefits.

The wording of the law lacks teeth, according to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Choking back tears before the sentence was announced, Duran said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness and leniency.

"I'll apologize to the people of New Mexico, to my family and my friends," she said.

A former state senator from Tularosa, Duran had sought leniency in court filings, citing undisclosed personal hardships and a worsening gambling disorder. A mental health assessment was submitted to the court and has been kept under seal.

Defense attorney Erlinda Johnson said her client's gambling problem dates to 2010, the year she became the first Republican elected secretary of state since 1928. Johnson said the gambling spiraled out of control in 2012 and 2013.

Duran still has faithful supporters in state government who urged leniency at the sentencing. Republican State Sen. Bill Sharer said Duran cared about her constituents and that she didn't take taxpayer money.

Judge Ellington said Duran violated the public's right to know about the source and destination of campaign donations.

Gov. Susana Martinez intends to announce her pick to take over the secretary of state's office by the end of the week.

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