A cemetery developer who was part owner of the defunct St. Catherine Indian School has pleaded guilty to defrauding a federal program for service-disabled veterans.
Albuquerque resident Max Tafoya, 63, signed a plea agreement Tuesday that means he could serve up to 57 months in prison, according to an announcement from acting New Mexico US Attorney Steven Yarbrough.
Federal official indicted Tafoya and his son-in-law Tyler Cole for allegedly obtaining almost $11 million in federal contracts by falsely claiming that the company M.R. Tafoya Construction, Inc. was qualified for the program that seeks to increase the number of government contracts awarded to veterans who are disabled during active military service. Yarbrough says Tafoya admitted that he got the contracts by paying his step brother, a service-disabled veteran, to use his name in construction bids even though he was not an owner of the company. Work on the Santa Fe National Cemetery was among contracts the obtained through those fraudulent means.
The court will determine whether the pair will be required to pay restitution and fines or forfeit assets, Yarbrough wrote in a statement.
A different company that Tafoya was a partner in, New Mexico Consolidated Construction Co., bought the St. Catherine’s campus more than six years ago with a plan to use at least part of it for cemetery development. The property is now in foreclosure and another business partner, John Polk, has sued the city of Santa Fe over its decision to disallow demolition of some buildings there.
Meanwhile, a Santa Fe municipal judge also ordered the company this summer to take steps to secure the campus and repair degraded structures that have historical designations.