The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — The former governor of the Santa Ana Pueblo and a former New Mexico Highlands University regent have been indicted on charges they embezzled at least $3.6 million from a group formed by the state’s 19 pueblos to develop the old Albuquerque Indian School property.
Federal agents Tuesday arrested 58-year-old Bruce Sanchez and 59-year-old developer Thomas Keesing on a 15-count indictment that charges both men with one count of conspiracy and 10 counts of embezzlement. Additionally, Sanchez was charged with four counts of tax evasion.
Keesing served on the Highlands Board of Regents from December 1992 to January 1999 and event served a stint as its chairman. The indictment was not connected to his tenure at Highlands.
According to the indictment, Sanchez and Keesing conspired from 2003 to 2009 to embezzle the millions from the Indian Pueblo Federal Development Corporation, which had been formed by the state’s tribes to develop the land near Interstate 40 and 12th Street. Sanchez was the president and chief executive officer of the corporation. Keesing was a consultant.
The old Indian school property is about 57 acres held in trust by the federal government for the pueblos. In 1976, the pueblos opened the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center on the property. They created the IPFDC in 1993 to develop the rest of the land.
In the mid-2000s, the pueblo corporation teamed with private developers to borrow $75.3 million to construct two buildings for lease to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In announcing the arrests, U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales said Sanchez allegedly “betrayed the people he was duty-bound to serve” by embezzling millions of dollars for his own personal use.
Authorities said Keesing didn’t have an attorney yet and a call to Sanchez’s lawyer wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday evening.
Keesing, of Pecos, and Sanchez have entered not guilty pleas in federal court. Both have been released on their own recognizance. Sanchez’s attorney, Monnica Garcia, tells the Albuquerque Journal she believes her client is innocent.
Keesing’s tenure on the Highlands Board of Regents was somewhat tumultuous.
In November 1994, when Keesing was chairman of the board, university faculty issued a vote of no confidence on the regents.
Of the then-123 members of the faculty, 73 voted no confidence to 16 who said they had confidence. Six faculty members abstained from the vote.
The vote alleged that the “regents have not followed the spirit of governance. Faculty Senate secretary at the time, Catherine Clinger, said, “We’ve tried to talk to them but they’re not responding at all.”
The vote came shortly after a meeting in which four regents voted not to extend the contract of then-president Gilbert Sanchez.
The four regents who were the subject of the no-confidence vote were Keesing; Rena Oyenque Salazar of Española; Elba Garcia-Burke of Las Cruces and Leroy “Huero” Sanchez of Las Vegas.
Editor’s note: The Optic’s Art Trujillo contributed to this report.