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Ex-Deming law enforcement agent gets 6 months in jail for theft

The Las Cruces Sun-News,
BYLINE: James Staley,

Deming-area, NM

LAS CRUCES >> A former Deming-area law enforcement officer, who had admitted to stealing property seized during investigations, received Tuesday morning a six-month prison sentence at Las Cruces federal court.

Armando Perales Jr., 43, was an investigator with the district attorney in southwestern New Mexico assigned to a hybrid state-federal task force that handled drug crime — the federal grant funded Border Operations Task Force. In that role, Perales was also cross-designated as a Customs officer with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Through a plea agreement Perales admitted to taking an AR-15 rifle, 1993 Chevrolet Camaro and more than $5,000 in cash, items all seized during separate task force investigations, according to court documents.

Aside from the prison time, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack ordered that Perales pay $5,000 in restitution, $3,000 in fines and serve three years of supervised release.

Accompanied in court Tuesday by his wife and sister-in-law, Perales spent several minutes addressing Brack before the judge announced his sentence. Perales, who lives in Hidalgo County, apologized to the judge, his family and the community for what he deemed "mistakes."

"I'm not the person that I was before," said Perales, detailing his sobriety, rejuvenated religious life and commitment to supporting his family with a new career in mining.

Perales' attorney, Michael R. Renteria, was hoping for a sentence that avoided jail time.

Brack seemed receptive to Perales' apology and that Perales has changed his life. But that was not enough to justify a more lenient sentence.

"I accept what you say at face value," Brack said to Perales. "I don't accept that it was just one mistake. ... Forgiveness is one thing. Dealing with consequences is another."

Brack said Perales acted as if he was above the law, and called such behavior by law enforcement officers a "huge disappointment" and "huge betrayal."

Special prosecutor Pegeen Rhyne, from the Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office, had recommended a six-month sentence, $5,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine.

Due to the relatively short length of his prison sentence, Rhyne said Tuesday that Perales will not be eligible for credit for time served; he will serve the entire six months.

Some of the filings in Perales' case have been sealed, but Rhyne detailed Perales' crimes in a sentencing document.

In 2007, the BOTF confiscated the AR-15 from a Georgia Army National Guard soldier on assignment in Deming. Perales and other agents had gone to his home in response to a tip about narcotics deals. They found nothing illegal, but Perales took the $1,400 assault rifle, telling the man he was going to have ballistics tests performed to ensure it had not been used in any crime.

Perales reportedly avoided calls from the AR-15's owner, and always had an excuse as to why the gun could not be returned, court documents state. Eventually, the owner gave up trying to get the gun back, and sometime between 2008 and 2010, Perales took it from the evidence vault to his home.

In 2008, Perales arrested a man on an outstanding felony warrant from Wisconsin. In 2010, the BOTF considered the car unclaimed property and it was set to be auctioned. But Perales stole the car, valued at $7,690, from the auction yard, documents state.

Finally, in May 2010, Perales took $5,001 that was supposed to be held in the evidence vault, court documents state. That money had been seized from a man arrested for methamphetamine possession. When the man's wife contacted Perales, saying she had documentation that money came from her Social Security and she had given it to her husband to buy a motorcycle in Arizona, he falsely told her the money was going through forfeiture.

Later, the court documents state, Perales returned the cash, but with was in different denominations.

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