Los Lunas

District Court Judge William Sanchez decided Tuesday to stand by his previous ruling to quash several indictment counts against four women who were charged with operating an illegal pyramid scheme.

Assistant Attorney General Jody Curran asked Sanchez to reconsider his decision, saying testimony which was previously thought to be missing from grand jury tapes had been found.

“After listening to the tapes, we found the missing testimony on several different tapes,” Curran told Sanchez.

The four women, Esther Peralta, Elizabeth Saiz, Bennie Trujillo and Terri Montoya, were indicted last summer on numerous counts alleging violation of the Pyramid Promotional Schemes Act. Sanchez dismissed one of four counts against Peralta and one of four counts against Saiz.

The judge also dismissed three of seven counts filed against Trujillo and five of eight counts against Montoya. Sanchez had dismissed the charges without prejudice meaning the attorney general’s office could present the charges to the grand jury for re-indictments.

Joe Allred, a local attorney representing Trujillo, told Sanchez a large portion of the witnesses’ testimony still seems to be missing from the tapes. He told the judge, from listening to the tapes, there is a “clear break” where a completely different subject is being talked about.

“This is all about whether this is a verbatim record,” Allred said. “I think whatever recollection the attorney general’s office might have about what happened isn’t relevant.

“Without that verbatim record, we don’t know what’s missing. We don’t know what exculpatory testimony is missing, and we’re not able to impeach that witness as to that testimony she gave to the grand jury.”

Allred also asked Sanchez to reconsider quashing the entire indictment against the defendants because there isn’t a verbatim record of grand jury testimony.

Curran disagreed, saying if there is any testimony missing from the tapes, it was a minuscule amount. The assistant attorney general asked Sanchez to reinstate the entire indictment against the four women.

Sanchez said, without knowing how much testimony from the one witness was missing, he was going to stand by his previous ruling and quash the numerous counts.

Curran said he would bring the witnesses in front of the grand jury in hopes of re-indicting the women on the dismissed counts. If the grand jury does re-indict, the cases would be joined together.

Curran also asked the judge to put the case on the next trailing docket for trial. Each count is punishable by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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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.