News Column

Consultants Convicted of Stealing $2.5 Million in Federal Voter-education Funds

Feb. 1, 2013

Steve Terrell

A Texas consultant and a former lobbyist hired by former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron were convicted Thursday of stealing more than $2.5 million in federal money intended to help educate voters.

U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales said a federal jury found Armando Gutierrez, 65, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Joe Kupfer, 49, of Rio Rancho guilty of multiple charges of conspiracy and theft of government property. The jury also convicted Gutierrez of obstruction of justice and money-laundering charges.

The jury reached its decision after deliberating for three hours following an eight-day trial in Albuquerque.

In a news release, the prosecutor's office said, "The evidence established Gutierrez and Kupfer conspired together to defraud the United States by stealing federal [Help America Vote Act] funds and converting the funds for their own use."

Gonzales said the two obtained federal money for work they didn't perform and services they didn't provide by submitting false invoices. He said Gutierrez and Kupfer also tried to obstruct an audit by the Election Assistance Commission and to conceal the funds that they had stolen.

"The message behind the jury's guilty verdict is that those who do business with government agencies will be held to the same high standards as government officials," Gonzales said. "When anyone, including public official and government contractors, abuses the public's trust in this way, they corrupt the system and erode the public's confidence in their government."

A former Albuquerque resident, Gutierrez produced Spanish-language ads for former President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign and Al Gore's 2000 presidential race. He also worked on Gov. Bill Richardson's 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

After Vigil-Giron hired Gutierrez, he received more than $6 million in federal election money from 2004 to 2006. But prosecutors contended he could not account for more than $2.5 million of work under his contracts.

Gutierrez paid Kupfer's company $746,375, the government said, but never produced any documentation for hiring Kupfer.

Last year, a federal jury found Kupfer and his wife, Daisy Kupfer, guilty of three counts of tax evasion related to money Gutierrez paid them.

A state court in November dismissed criminal charges against Vigil-Giron, ruling that delays in her case violated her right to a speedy trial. She, Gutierrez and the Kupfers originally were indicted in state court in 2009. Lawyers were successful in removing the state Attorney General's Office from the case. Defense attorneys argued that the attorney general had a conflict of interest because his office also represents the Office of the Secretary of State. They also noted that Daisy Kupfer once worked for the Attorney General's Office, which they said was a conflict.

The U.S. attorney filed charges against Gutierrez and the Kupfers in 2011 as the oft-delayed attorney general's case was trudging through the state court system. In his news release, Gonzales thanked the Attorney General's Office for initiating the case.

Sentencing hearings, at which Gutierrez and Joe Kupfer face prison terms and potential fines on multiple convictions, have not yet been scheduled. Daisy Kupfer is scheduled to be sentenced March 25.

Source: (c)2013 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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