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Columbus (N.M.) police chief, mayor, trustee caught in federal sweep


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  • Columbus (N.M.) police chief, mayor, trustee caught in federal sweep


    Federal officials today arrested the Columbus mayor, police chief, a city trustee and his wife on charges of firearms and drug trafficking.

    Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Police Chief Angelo Vega, Trustee Blas Gutierrez and Gutierrez' wife, Gabby, were taken into custody early Thursday by agents of Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshal's Service.

    As many as 11 people reportedly were arrested under a sealed federal indictment. It was not immediately known where the prisoners were being held. Federal officials reportedly remained in the village at mid-day Thursday. One Columbus resident, asking to remain anonymous, said several houses had been surrounded by federal agents.

    "In the early morning hours, Chief Angelo Vega was arrested," Luna County Sheriff's Capt. Arturo Baeza said, Thursday. "Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Trustee Blas Gutierrez and his wife were arrested, for federal firearms trafficking and drug trafficking."

    Espinoza, mayor since 2006, is related to Gutierrez by marriage.

    Vega, the chief since April 2009, is the seventh police chief under Espinoza, who is now in his second term. Vega was put on administrative leave last November, with a since-fired village treasurer, for what Espinoza called "budgetary concerns." Vega was reinstated by the Board of Trustees in January.

    Luna County Sheriff Raymond Cobos, who said he was briefed at about 7 a.m., Thursday, and some of his staff were meeting that morning with other village officials, including Mayor Pro Tem Roberto Gutierrez, who is Blas Gutierrez' son.

    Cobos said he would recommend a long-term agreement with the county to provide law enforcement coverage for Columbus. The county has done that in the past when the village had no police department, coordinating with the New Mexico State Police to provide service.

    The LCSO has 33 commissioned or sworn personnel, from deputies through detectives and lieutenants. Cobos has directed a schedule be drawn that allows at least one deputy in the Columbus area on each of the department's shifts, so 24-hour coverage is provided.

    "I want to reassure the citizens of Luna County," Cobos said, "Columbus will have law enforcement."

    The Columbus PD has officers Robert Valenzuela and Derek Smith.

    Vega, appointed in April 2009 by Espinoza and confirmed in May by the Trustees, came to Columbus with baggage.

    He was indicted in 1996, while a Lincoln County Deputy Sheriff, on two counts of extortion and two counts of intimidating a witness. A plea agreement reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.

    "There was a narcotics investigation, a couple of politicians who took the situation to extremes, and we let justice take care of it," Vega said appointed in Columbus, "after which I continued my law enforcement career. I was attacked politically. It was investigated by the (state) attorney general's office."

    Vega was Marshal of Mesilla Park before a January 2009 resignation as he and Mayor Michael Cadena clashed when Cadena sought to replace him.
    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

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