Questa school board member Ellis Garcia was issued a letter today (Oct. 23) by the New Mexico Attorney General's office advising him to step down from his position within 14 days due to Garcia's 1992 felony conviction for conspiracy to commit arson.
Questa school board member Ellis Garcia was issued a letter today (Oct. 23) by the New Mexico Attorney General's office advising him to step down from his position within 14 days due to a felony conviction in Garcia's past.
According to the letter, which was signed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Tania Maestas, "New Mexico state law is explicit in barring individuals convicted of a felony from being qualified to be elected or appointed to any public office. See NMSA 1978, §§ 10-1-2 (2013); 31-13-1(E) (2005)."
The letter continues, "An individual convicted of a felony is prohibited from holding public office in New Mexico unless they have been pardoned or restored to political rights, and refusing to resign from public office may subject such individual to civil and criminal sanctions."
Garcia revealed the felony, a 1992 conviction for conspiracy to commit arson, at an Oct. 9 forum for school board candidates held in Questa. He also told attendees, "I have as much right to serve as anyone in this community," noting that he had received a deferred sentence, that he had broken no laws since then and added that he had received an honorable discharge from the Army that same year.
However, Garcia did not provide a letter of pardon or certificate from the governor regarding his felony conviction and eligibility to serve. After learning of the conviction, members of the community filed complaints with both the district attorney's and secretary of state's offices.
As reported previously by the Taos News (Oct. 17), Garcia was also charged in Taos County in 1995 with criminal sexual penetration and criminal sexual contact with a minor (under age 13). That case, however, was dismissed without prejudice after prosecutors failed to notify Garcia of a target date for a grand jury hearing.
Garcia could not be reached for comment before press time on Wednesday (Oct. 23).
Garcia was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy in February 2017, so had not previously been elected. He had registered for the Nov. 5, 2019 election and declined to withdraw his candidacy after being advised of the law prohibiting convicted felons from holding public office.
"No, I'm not withdrawing," he said in an Oct. 15 phone interview with the Taos News. "I could die next week, or tomorrow. My kidneys are done. I'm going to live what life I have left to the fullest."
Garcia was diagnosed with renal failure in June of this year. He's undergone dialysis three times a week since then and is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
A copy of Garcia's candidate registration document from the Taos County Clerk's office shows that he was only required to affirm his residence in the Questa district. The form doesn't ask whether he had ever been convicted of a felony.
Board actions remain in question
Costilla residents in particular are asking whether this nullifies actions approved by the board during Garcia's tenure, particularly the recent Sept. 17 decision to permanently close their elementary school, the tiny but high-performing Río Costilla Southwest Academy of Learning.
Another action that is now in question is the board's Sept. 13 decision to investigate allegations of attempted bribery against board member Tammy Jaramillo, her husband, county manager Brent Jaramillo, and former board president Bernie Torres. According to Garcia, the three had offered him assistance with his medical bills and possible political favors in exchange for his vote to keep the Río Costilla school open.
The Jaramillos and Torres acknowledged that they had offered to help with Garcia's expenses but flatly denied they had ever made it contingent on his vote.
One of the three candidates running against Garcia, Vivian Vallejos-Apodaca, withdrew her candidacy Oct. 16 for family health reasons. Two candidates remain on the ballot for board position 2 – Rebecca Griego and Cori Jenkins.
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