Former employee accused of stealing thousands from New Mexico county

New Mexico

A former public employee is accused of stealing from one New Mexico county the entire time she was on the job. 

Mora County officials say for the past three years, their former payroll clerk Denise Duran stole more than $5,000 from the county by manipulating her time sheets.

“She was able to evade detection for several pay periods because she was the same person entering information into the system,” said County Commission Chair Paula Garcia. 

An investigation found Duran gave herself more vacation and sick days than she actually earned, though she denied it.

“I don’t know. Honestly, I can’t tell you because I’ve never seen that on my timesheets, on my pay stubs… on anything. This is the first time I see negatives on my leave,” Duran said in a July interview.

However, Duran did admit to another kind of fraud, investigators say.

Back in June, Garcia says during a review of monthly spending, commissioners found an invoice for reimbursement for flooring purchased for the fire department — $1,500 to be paid to Duran. 

“It was highly irregular because normally we would make a payment to a vendor,” Garcia said. 

Garcia says after that meeting the county hired a third party to investigate Duran.

That investigation found Duran admitted to faking an invoice because she originally bought the flooring for herself, didn’t want it anymore, and then tried to sell it to the fire department after losing track of her receipt.

“Her father was the chief of the volunteer fire department. Several of her family members were involved in that as well,” said County Attorney Michael Aragon. 

Fire crews from Mora worked the Ute Park and Emery Gap fires, and investigators found a 44.5-hour difference in hours worked versus hours paid.

Garcia says it’s a discrepancy Duran should have brought to the county.

“Just because they are volunteering doesn’t mean they are entitled to shortcuts and defrauding the public,” Garcia said.

Since the investigation, the county has drafted an update of its employee policy handbook to keep this from happening again.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Duran Tuesday and got no response. Back in July, she told investigators she did nothing wrong.

“I know my time drops really low, but I’ve never gone over what I’ve had,” Duran said. 

Duran, her father — the former fire chief — and another fire administrator were all fired following the county’s investigation. 

Right now, no criminal charges have been filed against Duran, but New Mexico State Police is investigating. 

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