A year and a half after Mayor Roger Baldwin’s business was destroyed by a fire, he and his wife, along with a former police officer, have been charged with several counts relating to the fire.
New Mexico State Police have charged Baldwin, 47, and his wife, Kelly, 36, with one count of arson, two counts of fraud, two counts of conspiracy and one count of perjury. John Emmons, 31, a former Bosque Farms Police officer, has also been charged with fraud, arson and conspiracy.
All three pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday afternoon during an arraignment hearing. District Court Judge John Pope released the Baldwins and Emmons on their own reconnaissance.
While Baldwin and his wife walked to the jail, located south of Pope’s courtroom, to be fingerprinted and booked, they maintained their innocence. When asked how they felt, Baldwin replied, “It’s just sad that the person who did this is still out there.”
Roger Baldwin is represented by Bosque Farms Attorney L. Lar Thomas, while Tom Esquibel is representing Kelly Baldwin. Robert Aragon is Emmons’ defense attorney.
Carlsbad District Attorney Tom Rutledge, who acted as a special prosecutor during the investigation, said state police first charged the Baldwins with one of the fraud counts in relation to an insurance claim from 1999.
“We’re alleging that there was a fraudulent insurance claim made, and the insurance company was defrauded out of $300,000 for alleged lost profits,” Rutledge said. “In addition, we have also charged them with the February 10, 2001, arson that occurred at Value Rite.”
Rutledge also claims that Roger and Kelly Baldwin lied in a deposition regarding an insurance claim regarding the arson. In turn, state police charged the couple with perjury.
According to the 60-page criminal complaint, New Mexico State Police Agent Art Ortiz charges that the Baldwins submitted insurance claims in April and May 1999 claiming they had lost money due to an equipment malfunction. Rutledge said the couple hadn’t lost any money and continued to do business.
The fire, which occurred in February 2001, destroyed millions of dollars worth of equipment inside the building. After the fire, Baldwin was forced to lay off his employees and close his business.
“We’re alleging that they were responsible for that arson, that they conspired to plan the arson and then they submitted insurance claims based on an arson that they set,” Rutledge said.
According to the complaint, Emmons was the first law enforcement officer at both fires. It alleges he gave inconsistent statements regarding the actual timeline of the events.
Emmons told state police that Baldwin asked if the video recorder was on in his police unit during the fire scene investigation. After Emmons told the mayor it was on, Baldwin allegedly asked him to destroy the videotape, the complaint said.
Rutledge wouldn’t speculate on an outcome of this case but did say that he believes he has probable cause for filing the charges.
“I want to remind everybody of this fact,” Rutledge said. “Roger Baldwin, Kelly Baldwin and John Emmons are at this point in time to be presumed innocent unless I prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are guilty of these crimes.”
Thomas said, after the hearing, that the charges against the Baldwins and Emmons are not substantiated by any credible evidence. He said the state police have refused to look at a lot of evidence that he has pointed out to them.
“What we’ve done is cooperated throughout the course of this investigation to try to ascertain who the guilty parties are in regards to the arson,” Thomas said. “The investigation cannot possibly be complete because there is at least one individual out there who has knowledge of how, when and where these fires were set.”
Thomas maintains that the Baldwins have been the victims all along, referring to several death threats made against them and other wrongdoing against the mayor and his wife. The attorney said state police are just picking “the most likely candidate, being the owner of the business” to try and make the facts fit the situation.
“There is not one direct piece of evidence that ties the Baldwins to the fire at Value Rite Manufacturing or to the one at their home,” Thomas said. “We don’t know who set the fire, but what’s important to remember is that the person or persons responsible for setting this fire are still out there, on the streets, and state police will do nothing to go after those persons.”
Days following the fire at Value Rite Manufacturing, Baldwin said he was thinking of resigning his position as mayor because he felt that his life was in danger. When asked if Baldwin was again thinking of resigning in light of the charges, Thomas said that the mayor won’t resign his position.
“That, in and of itself, would be an injustice to the residents of the Village of Bosque Farms,” Thomas said. “He’s not going to subject them to any injustices as a result of any injustices heaped upon him.”
According to the 60-page criminal complaint, fire investigators found that the fires were intentionally set in four different areas within the building. “It appeared that an accelarant was utilized to set two of the fires,” the criminal complaint said.
The first fire reportedly started in a small storage room where alarm equipment, a computer and a water heater were stored. The second fire occurred in an office located at the southeast corner of the building.
“Don Naylor (fire investigator) said it appeared that an accelerant was utilized to set two of the fires … ,” the complaint said. “Mr. Naylor pointed out fire No. 3, located in the foreman’s office, and fire No. 4, on a stack of white oak boards.”
Naylor reportedly told police that the fire in the foreman’s office indicated the most intense burning. Burn patterns usually associated with an ignitable liquid were observed in the office, the complaint said.
The fire investigator also reported that the fire on the stack of lumber also exhibited burn patterns where accelerant was utilized.
Charges were filed several months after state police investigators served three search warrants at the Bosque Farms village office, the home of the Baldwins and at Value Rite Manufacturing Inc.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.