Taos U.S. Bank manager pleads guilty to embezzlement

After local alternatives were discussed at a sentencing hearing held on Aug. 26, a Taos District Court judge sentenced former Taos U.S. Bank manager Rose Vargas to two years in state prison on Monday (Sept. 1). Both Vargas' defense attorney and a state prosecutor on the case found that sentenced over 363 days have to be served in a state correctional facility, as per state law.

Updated Sept. 2 at 3 p.m.

After local alternatives were discussed at a sentencing hearing last week, former Taos Plaza U.S. Bank manager Rose Vargas will be going to prison after all.

A Taos District Court judge ruled that Vargas would serve a two-year sentence in state prison on Tuesday (Sept. 1) after a state prosecutor and Vargas' defense attorney both raised questions about the legality of her serving that time in the Taos County jail or on house arrest.

Those options were proposed at last week's hearing on Aug. 26, when Judge Emilio Chavez sentenced Vargas, 64, to nine years, seven of which would be suspended, for a total of two.

Chavez acknowledged that Vargas, 64, would be at an increased risk for catching the novel coronavirus in prison. He said he would also weigh the role she plays as a caretaker for her parents, two of four elderly victims Vargas allegedly stole a sum total of $421,000 from between 2015 and 2018.

Vargas, who also served as a vice president with the bank, was indicted by grand jury on two counts of embezzlement in 2019. She pleaded guilty to one count in February of this year as part of an agreement with the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

She will also be required to pay restitution as part of the deal, but the amount has yet to be determined. After telling the court she didn't have the money to pay, a local sentence was also meant to allow her to work remotely to earn back what she owes.

Following last week's hearing, Chavez requested that Vargas' attorney, Alan Maestas, submit an argument before Tuesday (Sept. 1), explaining why Vargas should be allowed to serve her two years on house arrest, instead of in the county jail.

Maestas filed a brief with the court on Aug. 27 that reference a 1989 New Mexico Court of Appeals ruling in a case entitled State v. Ruiz, which determined that a sentence longer than 363 days would have to be served in a state correctional facility.

To meet the time requirement, Maestas proposed either reducing Vargas' sentence to 363 days or vacating the original sentence and allowing his client to serve just over one year on house arrest. At the end of that period, Maestas said the judge could impose the original sentence and grant Vargas a one-year credit for time she had already served, bringing her sentence in line with the requirement.

Prosecuting attorney Camela Starace submitted a brief the next day in which she also noted that a sentence to the jail or house arrest would likely be illegal. As for Maestas' proposal of a reduced sentence, Starace said he had "presented no new information that would warrant such a reduction in time."

Vargas was required to turn herself in to the Taos County Adult Detention Center on Wednesday (Sept. 2) at 2 p.m., when the sheriff's office was to arrange for her transport to prison.

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