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Latino Daily News

Wednesday December 18, 2013

WATCHDOG: New Mexico Mayor and Convicted Gun Smuggler Keeps Taxpayer-Funded Pension

A conviction for gun smuggling isn’t stopping a former Columbus mayor from getting nearly $17,000 a year in taxpayer-funded pension money, New Mexico Watchdog has learned.

The former mayor, Eddie Espinoza, was released from federal prison in late November three years early from a four-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy, trafficking in firearms and making false statements while purchasing firearms. Because Espinoza held a job with the state of New Mexico, he gets $1,387.89 each month from the Public Employees Retirement Association.

“As a defined benefit plan, PERA will pay this monthly amount for the retiree’s lifetime,” Susan Pittard, chief of staff-general counsel at PERA, said in an email Tuesday to New Mexico Watchdog.

Pittard said confidentiality statutes forbid PERA from disclosing what Espinoza did with the state and for how long.

Efforts by New Mexico Watchdog to contact Espinoza were unsuccessful.

So how does a convicted felon keep his taxpayer-funded pension?

For the same reason former state Senate Pro Tem Manny Aragon, who was also released early from prison this month, does.

In 2012, the New Mexico Legislature passed an anti-corruption bill forcing public officials to forfeit at least part or all of their pay and pensions should they be convicted of felonies connected to their duties in office.

But the law is not retroactive, so the pensions for Aragon and Espinoza were not affected.

Espinoza’s pension works out to $16,654.68 per year. Aragon receives $27,311 per year in his legislative pension — more than $204,000 since 2005.

As part of his sentencing for skimming millions in an Albuquerque courthouse construction project, Aragon pays at least $1,000 a month in restitution, using his taxpayer-funded pension to satisfy the debt. Aragon and the co-defendants, as of June, had an outstanding balance of $426,000, according to the Albuquerque Journal,

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