ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A former top New Mexico tax official, George Martinez, will serve the next seven years in federal prison after being sentenced in court Thursday. Top federal officials announced the sentencing at a news conference Thursday afternoon, saying Martinez will also be forced to pay $1.2 million in restitution.

In early 2022, Martinez pleaded guilty in the federal case involving alleged theft of tax money. Federal officials say Martinez, who used to lead the New Mexico Department Taxation and Revenue’s Questionable Refund Unit, was supposed to investigate suspicious tax refunds and protect funds for the State of New Mexico.

Instead, federal officials say Martinez used the identifications of family members and others to generate fraudulent refunds. Federal officials say Martinez then directed the money from those refunds to himself across nine different bank accounts he controlled. Federal prosecutors say Martinez used the money to gamble and on other expenses for his family.

Federal prosecutors say Martinez’s role as a top tax official helped facilitate the scheme. Investigators uncovered $689,797 worth of fraudulent transactions in the investigation, but say he stole more than $1.2 million total.

“He was very familiar with the types of refunds that would trigger a red flag by the automated software that would do audits,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Peña during Thursday’s news conference. “It was eventually after many years of doing the conduct that there was an internal review, that reviewed those safeguards and found his activity.”

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Federal prosecutors say they’re confident that New Mexico has better safeguards in place that could detect similar fraud schemes in the future. The case is now said to be “well known” in state’s Taxation and Revenue Department.

“We saw in the trajectory of the case, the fact that the safeguards did improve,” Peña said. “And that’s how he was eventually caught, tripped up. His patterns have been understood, the exact methods by which he was assigning refunds to himself are now well known, and they know what to look for.”

The feds say there are no further allegations of wrongdoing by anyone other than Martinez. While federal prosecutors say Martinez used the names of family members in his scheme, those family members did not lose any money.

“They were supposedly issued refunds, so the New Mexico computers would have shown that refunds were issued to them,” Peña said. “But of course, it’s known, they didn’t receive any of the money.”

Martinez was sentenced on wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering charges in the case. He spent 16 years working for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department before the case unfolded.

Albuquerque’s FBI field office assisted in the investigation. The office is lead by Special Agent-in-Charge Raul Bujanda. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico is lead by Alexander Uballez. Both are appointees of President Joe Biden. New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department is lead by Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke.

“We hope today’s sentencing send a warning to anyone in government who might be tempted to do wrong by the American people,” said FBI Albuquerque Special Agent-in-charge Raul Bujanda. “The FBI and law enforcement partners are going to come after you, and we’ll make you pay, every single cent that you take from our taxpayers, back.”