Vallejos trial again postponed

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The date for a trial in the case against a former Socorro title company owner and Socorro County manager has been pushed back again. And, according to the prosecuting attorney, a trial may not happen at all.

Joseph A. Vallejos, who owned and served as president of JM Abstract, was scheduled to go to trial on April 30. But during a pre-trial conference on Tuesday 7th Judicial District Court Judge Kevin R. Sweazea agreed to postpone the trial until late this summer or early fall.

Vallejos, who was arrested in November 2010, is facing five counts of embezzlement and 25 counts of felony fraud.

Robert Cates, senior prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, told Sweazea at the outset of Tuesday’s hearing that he has been negotiating with Vallejos’s attorney, Randy Chavez of Albuquerque.

“There’s a plea offer on the table,” Cates said. “We’re working on tightening up some of the numbers.”

Cates said some of the alleged victims have already received compensation through insurance.

Cates continued to update the judge on the status of discovery in the case. He said investigators had compiled quite a bit of evidence, which took up an entire room at the Socorro Police Department. Many witnesses have been interviewed, he said, but there were quite a few more interviews to be conducted.

“At last count, there were almost 40 witnesses,” said Cates, who later added that the interviews would likely be completed by the end of May.

The attorney told the judge there was a good chance a plea agreement would be reached before trial.

“The prospect of not going to trial remains high,” Cates said.

Sweazea asked the defense attorney if he had anything to add.

“I think he said all that needs to be said,” Chavez said.

“This is a voluminous case, but at some point we have to set the case for trial or settle it,” Sweazea said. “When would you be ready for trial?”

Both sides agreed to Sweazea’s suggestion of a trial date set for August or September.

Cates suggested another pre-trial conference be set for June, by which time negotiations for a plea agreement may be closer to a settlement.

“We’re making progress every day,” Cates said.

Vallejos, who has entered a plea of not guilty, was present for the hearing but did not speak.

Vallejos was arrested following an investigation by the Socorro Police Department and the Public Regulation Commission’s insurance fraud investigators. He was initially charged on two counts, but 28 additional charges were later added. In all, the allegations contend Vallejos mishandled or misappropriated more than $316,500.

Three weeks before his arrest, the PRC’s Division of Insurance issued a consumer alert that warned residents of Socorro and Catron counties of possible fraudulent title polices being issued by JM Abstract.

Potential violations included misrepresentation, accepting premiums without providing a policy, operating without a valid license and violations of the Fair Trade Practices Act.

Socorro police had been investigating Vallejos’ business practices for several months before the PRC’s fraud investigators got involved. Det. Richard Lopez said Socorro Police and the fraud bureau had received well more than 200 complaints against Vallejos and JM Abstract.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.

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