Two city officials in Sunland Park, New Mexico were arrested on extortion charges after they allegedly tried to blackmail a political opponent by sending a stripper to his office and secretly videotaping the encounter.Sunland Park Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Salinas and City Manager Jaime Aguilera were arrested Saturday and charged with extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, evidence tampering, and conspiracy to commit evidence tampering, all third or fourth-degree felonies.
They are each being held on $50,000 bonds, and are scheduled for an arraignment Monday. If convicted, they each face up to 7.5 years in prison.
Gerardo Hernandez, a candidate for mayor against Salinas, claims that Salinas hired a topless woman to come into his office and dance for him — “as any gentleman would know, it was a lap dance,” Hernandez said of the incident — secretly filmed it, then tried to use the tape to blackmail Hernandez into dropping out of the race.
Hernandez says he was approached by a man who “said, ‘We have a video of you and we’re going to release it if you don’t withdraw from the race.’ And I said, ‘Well, you can release it, because I’m not going to withdraw from the race.'”
Authorities raided city hall last week and, according to an arrest affidavit, found the video on Aguilera’s computer — and that it was being worked on with editing software. The video had been put on his computer on February 15, according to authorities, a day before the alleged extortion attempt occurred.
According to ABC-7, authorities are also looking for two additional city employees who may have been involved in the alleged extortion attempt. Public Works Director Dario Hernandez and Martah Alondra Lozano, a temp for city Human Resources, are facing evidence tampering charges, and could face up to three years in prison.
NMPolitics.net reports that Gerardo Hernandez said of the arrests: “This election has been very difficult for my family and I have made mistakes – mistakes that I have acknowledged and continue to work through with the support of my wife and children. For anyone to deliberately and intentionally cause harm to my family because of my personal bad judgment is disturbing.”
Salinas has been temporarily serving as Mayor of Sunland Park, after it was revealed that current Sunland Park Mayor Martin Resendiz admitted in a 2010 deposition that he had signed $1 million worth of contracts with a local architecture design firm after “a good two and a half, three hours” of drinking,” to the point where he was too drunk to drive home and had to be picked up by his sister. The deposition was part of a lawsuit filed against the city by the architecture firm for $1 million to cover work it did under the contracts.
Salinas was also named in the lawsuit, and also admitted to being drunk during the meeting. He, Gerardo Hernandez and one other candidate are running to fill Resendiz’s seat.