SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - Santa Fe County Undersheriff Robert Garcia has been appointed sheriff in the wake of Greg Solano's admission that he illegally sold department property on the Internet and kept the proceeds.
The Santa Fe County Commission named Garcia to the post after being assured by both New Mexico State Police and the Attorney General's Office that Garcia was not involved in Solano's activities. Garcia is Santa Fe County's sheriff-elect.
Solano resigned Wednesday. In a letter released to the media, he admitted to taking old, retired equipment from the Sheriff's Department and reselling it online, sometimes to military troops.
Solano says in the letter that he originally thought of the idea because he read articles about "families of soldiers buying protective body vests and sending them to their loved ones overseas, to wear for additional protection." At that point, Solano says, he began to sell old vests, department-issued cell phones, flashlights, police belts and holsters to troops overseas.
"This was wrong, illegal, unethical and dishonest," says Solano in the letter.
Protective body vests and other equipment are turned in by officers after about five years. The manufacturer of those vests recommends turning them in at that time because the Kevlar deteriorates after time.
Solano claims in the letter the reasoning for doing this was due to personal financial problems.
"Like many Americans I have been caught up in a high mortgage, with high interest rates and was having a very hard time paying my mortgage and the bills that come with it," says the letter. "Unfortunately I am just a normal man trying to keep my family afloat during these tough financial times. This is not an excuse. What I did was wrong and cannot be justified."
Solano goes on to say that he admitted to the wrongdoing on Monday. He turned over evidence and plans to "cooperate fully with authorities."
"Although my home is threatened with foreclosure and I am now unemployed, I plan to pay back what I took," Solano said in the letter.
Solano claims none of his staff or family knew what he was doing. He resigned as soon as his replacement was named by the county commission. The New Mexico Department of Public Safety said over the past several months, police have been looking into this alleged embezzlement.
"Through the four month investigation, agents with the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau have learned that Greg Solano was selling Santa Fe County property," a statement released by DPS said. "The amount of property has not come to a final tally; the scheme was facilitated through eBay where Solano would sell items illegally."
Solano does not plan to have another statement on this matter outside of the letter sent to media.
The department he admitted to stealing from was caught off guard, Maj. Ron Madrid said.
"Our department is in shock right now," Madrid said. "This type of stuff, it's tarnish on your badge. We just need to keep our heads up."
Two hours after Solano's resignation county commissioners called a special meeting and appointed Garcia to the top job. Since Garcia is out of state he was sworn in over the phone.
Garcia said the appointment was bittersweet but thanked the commission for trusting him to do the job.
Moments later, County Manager Katherine Miller called for a special audit on the department.
"I'm greatly concerned that there are controls in the sheriff's department that were not followed in order for Sheriff' Solano to conduct these activities," Miller said.
State Police said Solano will face charges but would not elaborate.
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