A member of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant Board is scheduled to face trial for forgery and attempted fraud at 9 a.m. today (Jan. 28).
The charges are related to a deed filed more than two years ago that has stalled real estate transactions inside the 20,000-acre Spanish land grant north of Taos.
A jury trial for Lawrence Ortíz is set in district court in Taos before Judge Jeff McElroy. Ortíz is a member of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant Board of Trustees — a five-member board that claims to represent the heirs of the original settlers of the grant.
In October 2011, the board filed documents with the Taos County Clerk that lay claim to the 20,000-acre grant. A warranty deed purportedly signed by Manuel Ortíz — the father of two board members — was among those documents. The deed has essentially clouded title to thousands of properties inside the grant and has prevented lenders from issuing mortgages and stopped sellers from selling property.
The Hondo deed was filed the same day that a property owned by Lawrence Ortíz was set to go up for auction as a part of a foreclosure proceeding.
Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos has said the timing of the deed and the property auction led him to seek charges for fraud.
The forgery charge is related to questions over who signed the deed. In a deposition done for a separate case, Manuel Ortíz, Sr. denied that he signed the document.
The criminal charges against Lawrence Ortíz were filed in November 2011.
In addition to the criminal case, several civil cases have been filed against the Hondo board to try and clear up the deed issue. A federal lawsuit brought by three national title insurance companies was dismissed when the judge determined the companies did not have standing.
Those companies re-filed their complaint in district court in Taos and a decision is pending. Another suit brought by two landowners in the Hondo land grant is also pending.
A sister of two Hondo grant board members won quiet title to her property last year, but the judge in that case declined to expunge the Hondo grant deed entirely.