Several charges against four Belen women accused of operating an illegal pyramid scheme have been dismissed.
District Court Judge William Sanchez said he dismissed the charges without prejudice Monday morning because a tape which reportedly contained grand jury testimony had been inadvertently erased.
“I dismissed the charges on the basis that information wasn’t available for the defense attorneys to review,” Sanchez said. “There may have been a malfunction with the recording equipment because the tape was just blank which had testimony from one of the victims.”
The four women, Esther Peralta, Elizabeth Saiz, Bennie Trujillo and Terri Montoya, were indicted last summer on numerous counts of the pyramid promotional schemes act. Each count is punishable by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Sanchez dismissed one of the four counts against Peralta and one of the four counts filed against Saiz. The judge also dismissed three of the seven counts filed against Trujillo and five of the eight counts against Montoya.
Because Sanchez dismissed the charges without prejudice, the attorney general’s office could present the charges to the grand jury and the women could be re-indicted.
Assistant Attorney General Jody Curran said Monday he intends to reintroduce the dismissed charges in this case to a grand jury for indictments.
“We’ll have to re-evaluate the whole case and see where this testimony fits in,” Curran said. “Only one witness will have to testify over again, so I don’t see a problem.”
During Monday’s hearing, the women’s defense attorneys told the court they are contemplating appealing the judge’s decision to the State Court of Appeals. Peralta’s attorney, Armando Torres, said a decision hasn’t been made yet about the appeal, but Sanchez did give the defense attorneys permission to file it.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Torres said. “We just asked the court for permission for an interlocutory appeal.”
Torres explained an interlocutory appeal is basically appealing a decision of a judge in an on-going case. “We asked that all of the indictments be quashed and that all of the witnesses should have to testify again in front of a grand jury,” Torres said.
Torres said each individual attorney could file the appeal, but he believes it should be a joint decision between all the attorneys involved. Montoya is being represented by Los Lunas attorney George Eichwald while Trujillo’s attorney is Michael Sanchez. Joe Allred is representing Saiz. The other attorneys didn’t return telephone calls Tuesday for comment.
Curran said he couldn’t comment on the appeal until he reviews the court documents.
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.