Jury selection begins next month for the trial of Marino K Leyba, known to friends as Reno. He stands accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Sarah Lovato, and her father, Bennie Lovato Sr., in May.
Police say Reno committed the murder wearing the uniform and possibly with the gun he used working for his father, Marino M Leyba, owner of USA Security and Surveillance.
Both men had records of domestic violence. Previously, SFR investigated why the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees security companies, allowed the Leybas to maintain armed-guard licenses.
Subsequently, the RLD provided SFR with what it calls the department’s complete file on Leyba’s company. Though consisting mainly of pro-forma paperwork, the file has evidence of another ignored warning sign.
RLD was told of Marino Leyba’s violent record before he brought his son into the family business. In January 2000, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety notified RLD that Leyba had pleaded guilty to battery of a household member following a 1997 arrest in Las Vegas.
The crime might have jeopardized Leyba’s armed-guard license, not only because federal law makes it difficult for domestic violence convicts to own firearms, but also because he failed to disclose the incident on his application.
Nevertheless, RLD gave Leyba a pass. The file includes a letter from Leyba dated Feb. 3, 2000 and addressed to then-Private Investigations Advisory Board administrator Charlotte Kinney. “It was not my intent to falsify my application,” Leyba writes. “I did not know the specific charge…was a felony.”
Leyba notes he and his wife were getting marital counseling. “[O]utside of this particular event, I’ve been a good citizen, good provider and need my Private Patrol Operator’s license to maintain my livelihood,” Leyba writes.
The plea seemed to work. The letter bears a handwritten note from “Amy” to Kinney: “Charlotte, This is for presentation to the Board next week.” Another hand, Kinney’s, writes, “This is OK—doesn’t need bd.”
SFR reached Kinney, who retired from the state in 2006, and emailed her the document. Kinney, daughter of the late former Albuquerque mayor Harry Kinney, tells SFR via email her initial response was “what was I thinking if I let him be licensed!” However, Kinney also notes that “as I think about the licensing laws I have to tell you that it is extremely difficult to deny or revoke a license,” especially since at the time the PI board was only an advisory board.
“If the counseling was satisfactory to the courts it would be difficult for the board/Department to deny his license and ability to earn a living,” she writes.
Now, with his son awaiting trial, Leyba’s status as a “good provider” may be in jeopardy. Two people familiar with the situation tell SFR Leyba has lost guard contracts following revelations about his violent history.
Because there is no public record of private security contracts, SFR found this hard to confirm. Reached on his cell phone, Leyba hung up.
However, one former client, the Tierra Real Homeowners Association, suspended Leyba’s contract following a 2008 incident involving a drunken, gun-brandishing guard, Phillip Glock. Last week, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on a lawsuit stemming from the incident, but failed to make the connection to the Leyba case.
Kevin Skaggs, president of the Tierra Real Homeowner’s Association, says USA Security’s contract was suspended immediately after the 2008 incident. Former association President Bert Dalton, who approved the USA Security contract, tells SFR he was impressed with Leyba’s pitch, but grew concerned as residents began having confrontations with guards.
“There are not a lot of quality choices for private security in Santa Fe,” Dalton says. “Where is the regulation of these private companies?”
Regulation falls to the PI board. And “USA Security is under INTENSE SCRUTINY from the Board right now,” RLD spokeswoman Teala Kail writes to SFR.
As for Reno Leyba’s pending trial, on Sept. 2 prosecutors filed notice of their intent to introduce “…evidence of charged and uncharged incidents of domestic violence [Reno Leyba] committed against Sarah Lovato,” plus “evidence relating to the nature of his prior relationships with women, including specifically Amanda Ewers.” Ewers, Leyba’s ex, did not return SFR’s message.