Vallejos trial postponed

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A local man indicted on 30 felony charges related to selling fraudulent title policies to customers had his trial postponed during a pretrial conference Oct. 1 in 7th Judicial District Court.

Joseph Vallejos, former owner of JM Abstract & Title Company, is charged with 26 counts of fraud and four of embezzlement. Vallejos was arrested in November 2010 following an investigation by the Socorro Police Department and Public Regulation Commission insurance fraud investigators. He pleaded not guilty in September 2011, but a plea deal has been developing since early 2012.

During a change of plea hearing in District Court in February, Vallejos' attorney Randy Chavez explained to Judge Kevin Sweazea that Vallejos was not yet able to come up with the amount required for the initial phase of restitution to the alleged fraud victims. Sweazea said restitution was the most important part of the plea deal.

During the hearing Oct. 1, Sweazea noted a trial was set for November and the defense has been working on the plea a long time. Chavez said people want to purchase Vallejos' title fund, but Vallejos hasn't yet been able to solidify the deals, which would provide him money for restitution payments.

Chavez said the case is "pretty big" and suggested the court take it off the November docket. Sweazea said Vallejos was arrested in 2010 and has been trying to come up with restitution since last fall.

"At some point we have to proceed," Sweazea said.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Cates said the 30-count case was big and doing a jury trial by November would put a lot of pressure on the state. He added he believed the defense has been making progress in getting some restitution money together.

"We're in a quandary," Sweazea said. "I'm sure the victims would rather be paid, but the case can't go on forever."

Sweazea said the court could schedule a trial for late winter, in February or later. Chavez agreed, saying the defense should know by then if Vallejos can get some restitution together.

Sweazea said the court will vacate the November trial, then asked Cates if the trial would take a month. Cates said no, the state will probably whittle down the charges. He estimated a trial would take at least a week, but no more than two.

"It's a very simple case, 30 times," Cates said.

Rather than present a jury the same information 30 times, Cates anticipated the state would likely prosecute the most egregious charges where the victims lost the most money.

During an interview in February, Cates said there are 30 victims in the case, not as many as allegedly lost money in their dealings with JM Abstract & Title Company, but a sampling to be more manageable in a trial. The state has been trying to give Vallejos the time he needs to build the pool of restitution.

"The alternative is to just take it to trial, and that means dragging people here from all over the place," Cates said. "And maybe run the risk of not getting the kind of restitution we were hoping for.

"It seems like it's easier when all sides are reaching an agreement voluntarily."

Cates said if the case is resolved with a plea, that will end the criminal charges pending against Vallejos in the matter — although there may have been hundreds of victims. He said once the criminal case is resolved, other victims could potentially sue Vallejos in civil court.