Blank Check

AG’s office, State Police investigating allegations of embezzlement by former civilian employee, possible cover-up

State investigators have been examining for months whether a former New Mexico State Police civilian employee ripped off nearly $100,000 in funds meant for undercover operations—and whether her superiors, including some high-ranking officers, aided in the alleged embezzlement.

The state attorney general’s office began digging late last year, spokesman Matt Baca tells SFR. He would not name the investigation’s targets, but confirmed that the former civilian employee, Sally Archuleta, died shortly after the alleged stealing stopped last spring.

“We obviously want to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible,” Baca says.

SFR has learned that interim Department of Public Safety Secretary Tim Johnson was among those named by State Police investigators—and identified in a letter sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and, later, the entire state Senate days before the regular legislative session began in January.

Neither the governor nor any senator responded directly to the four-page letter or its allegations, its author, State Police Lt. Jeremy Vaughan, tells SFR. A spokeswoman for the governor says the administration advised Vaughan to file a formal complaint—something he says he did long ago.

The problem: One of his complaints was against Johnson, who subsequently got promoted and whom Vaughan says ignored problems as they grew within the department.

The letter alleges mismanagement and possible criminal activity at the state’s third-largest law enforcement agency, including the alleged embezzlement, which is said to have been carried out via a blank check scam from the unit’s “contingency fund” used for tobacco and alcohol violation enforcement.

Johnson supervised the Special Investigations Division, now called the Special Investigations Unit, during the time of the alleged embezzlement in the unit.

Reached by telephone Monday, he says he learned of the alleged check scam “late last year” and then forwarded the case to the AG.

“Otherwise, I’ve stayed completely out of it because my name was involved,” Johnson tells SFR. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I have nothing to hide, and I committed no crimes.”

The secretary, a 20-year State Police veteran and former chief, would not offer an opinion on the embezzlement claims, but denied the broader contentions offered in the letter about favoritism and shoddy leadership in his department.

Vaughan claims thousands of rounds of NMSP ammunition and at least one handgun have gone missing; that the department has promoted unqualified candidates—some of whom had even committed crimes in uniform—because they were connected to department brass; serial transparency violations; and the alleged embezzlement.

The 18-year State Police veteran lays the blame mostly at the feet of Johnson, interim Deputy Secretary William Weisler and interim Chief Robert Thornton in his letter to Lujan Grisham and asks that she “hold off, if not wholly reconsider, the confirmation” of all three.

None received hearings and, according to the governor’s office and a spokesman for Senate Democrats, Lujan Grisham never requested them.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, chairs the Senate Rules Committee, where all confirmation processes begin. He tells SFR the committee prioritized confirming university regents this year, because they cannot serve unless confirmed. Interim cabinet secretaries, however, can.

Further, Ivey-Soto says he was not aware of the embezzlement allegations or any other claims of misconduct by Johnson until contacted by a reporter—despite being copied on an email sent to him and others during the session laying out the allegations.

“As far as I know, the guy is a Boy Scout,” he says of Johnson. At SFR’s request, Ivey-Soto later searched his email, found the correspondence and said: “My bad.”

He declines to comment on the allegations, telling SFR he didn’t even want to hear them.

“That’s why we do background checks” during the confirmation process, Ivey-Soto says. “That way we can do a more thorough opposed to relying on a single letter.”

There is significantly more information available than a single letter, SFR has learned from two sources who detailed the embezzlement allegations on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about retaliation.

According to the sources:

Archuleta began allegedly stealing money from the contingency funds in spring 2015. Her supervisor, Suzanne Skasik, then captain over the Special Investigations Division, signed blank checks from the funds and allowed Archuleta to be a cosigner—an abnormal practice.

Archuleta allegedly made many checks out to herself and cashed them and, with the help of a friend in the state accounting office, doctored the books to make it appear as if the checks had been properly distributed to agents.

In May 2020, a new captain was assigned to the unit, according to the sources. The new captain reviewed the books and began to notice discrepancies. He asked Skasik and another officer to explain; neither could.

The newly assigned captain informed Weisler, who was then a major, and Weisler asked for additional investigation. The captain dug in and detailed at least $85,900 in allegedly embezzled funds.

Archuleta died several weeks later following a lengthy illness, according to a published obituary.

The captain turned several checkbooks and other records over to the AG’s office, according to the sources. But Weisler, according to Vaughan’s letter, said there would be no Internal Affairs State Police investigation because the department preferred to “start with a clean slate.”

“I believe this is due to the fact that Tim Johnson was the supervisor over SIU (formerly SID) at the time much of the money was misappropriated,” Vaughan writes in his letter to the governor.

Ivey-Soto says the allegations did not cause legislators to “look the other way” regarding a possible confirmation for Johnson.

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says Vaughan’s allegations “played no role in the occurrence of any legislative hearings.”

Skasik, who is still with NMSP, did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

State Police Lt. Mark Soriano tells SFR on Monday that the department “has opened up an internal affairs investigation in reference to these allegations.”

He would not comment on the status or answer questions about whether anyone has been disciplined, citing department policy. (State Police has many times released the fact of officer discipline.)

Johnson declines to say whether he is interested in taking the secretary job on a permanent basis. He plans to meet with Lujan Grisham’s team in the coming weeks to discuss the possibility.

As for the allegations, Johnson says he wants them looked into.

“We take each allegation seriously,” he says. “Lt. Vaughan is a respected member of our organization, so we are looking into what he has brought forward.”

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