Dr. Donald Leach, of Los Lunas Family Eye Care, said he was supplementing his personal funds to keep his employees paid.
Anna Padilla | News-Bulletin photo

LOS LUNAS—A former employee has been found guilty of taking money from her former employer, Dr. Donald Leach of Los Lunas Family Eye Care.

Irene Archer, 65, of Los Lunas, was found guilty in December 2019 of fraud of over $20,000, computer access with intent to defraud or embezzle $20,000 and computer abuse by creating false data.

She was given a choice between two years in the Department of Corrections with good time or 364 days in the Valencia County Detention Center with no good time, along with a 5-year period of probation time.

Archer’s attorney submitted a motion to reconsider the sentence due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and her age in combination with chronic back problems.

Prosecutors filed a response, saying Archer’s health issues were not respiratory related.

Thirteenth Judicial District Judge Cindy Mercer will hear the motion on Aug. 3.

Another former employee, Christina Romero, 65, of Los Lunas, was also indicted on charges of embezzlement, fraud, two counts of computer access with intent to defraud or embezzle and three counts of conspiracy.

In January, the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office filed a notice of suspension of criminal proceedings against Romero when she agreed to enter into the pre-prosecution diversion program.

As part of the agreement with prosecutors, Romero agreed to write a statement detailing her participation in and guilt of the crimes which she is charged.

“The information didn’t show that she took more than two or three thousand dollars,” Leach said. “With Irene, what they found was more like $70,000.

“But the thing that made it so much worse was (Archer) was so busy doing this that she wasn’t billing,” he said. “We lost three quarters of a year of Medicare payments for failing to bill on time. Medicare gives doctors a whole year, that’s how behind she was.”

Leach noticed he had to supplement money for his business through his personal funds, and towards the end of December 2014 is when he had concerns about the two employees.

“Our policy was that you can have whatever you need whatever it costs us to get it, and if they couldn’t pay for it in full, they could pay a monthly charge until it’s paid off,” Leach said.

Archer and Romero had been working for Dr. Leach for about six years before they were fired in 2015 for suspicion of stealing from the Los Lunas eye care facility.

About six months prior to that during one of their staff meetings, Archer and Romero allegedly told Leach he didn’t need to take money out of their paychecks because they’d pay him by check.

“I was just so busy with patients that I just kept my head down and kept taking care of them,” Leach said.

The optometrist went into each of the women’s financial files at the office to find any discrepancies.

“I went into their files and noticed it showed they were paying these bills, but I went into the bank record and there was no check in the bank deposited,” Leach said. “I checked a few months before and after and saw each one had a couple thousand (dollars) they posted that was never actually paid.”

He employed the help of the office’s information technology specialist and asked him to look at the records. He confirmed what Leach suspected and suggested there might be more money missing than the initial $2,000.

Also at the suggestion of their IT specialist, Leach hired forensic accountants from the McHard Accounting Consulting Firm to investigate further.

“They found that a lot of money had disappeared, and they found out how they were doing it,” Leach said. “It made me feel like I’m not a very smart person.”

Many of Archer’s charges had to do with time card fraud.

“(New Mexico) State Police looked at what we had and decided a crime had been committed,” the doctor said. “It’s been a long, dragged-out affair.”

According to court documents, the approximate amount that was found to be taken from the business was $75,000.

“I was supplementing my personal funds to keep everybody paid. I had seven staff members and another doctor here,” Leach said. “It was just one of those things where you’re trying to take care of everyone else that you forget to take care of yourself.”

Leach said because there was money missing, he wasn’t able to pay for employee bonuses that he would’ve normally been able to. He started blaming insurance companies and the government before coming to the realization that his employees could be stealing from him.

After the two employees were fired, he noticed a substantial increase in business revenue with no change to how he had been doing things prior to Romero and Archer leaving.

“I finally put cameras in and have taken extra safety precautions. I feel really good about my current staff,” Leach said. “It’s not OK to destroy people’s lives by stealing like this, and there’s a penalty to be paid.

“Hopefully it’ll make people more honest. I don’t want to hurt anybody back. I just want people to know the justice system can work.”

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Anna Padilla, News-Bulletin Staff Writer