A former New Mexico sheriff was charged Thursday with embezzlement and money laundering for allegedly taking $39,000 in federal funds intended to reimburse Catron County for the cost of responding to a 2018 wildfire.
Former Catron County Sheriff Ian Fletcher allegedly took money paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for law enforcement services provided during the Buzzard Fire in May 2018, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said. Fletcher, 50, was charged Thursday in 7th Judicial District Court with seven counts of embezzlement, and one count each of money laundering, misuse and deposit of public money, and criminal solicitation to commit engaging in an official act for personal financial gain.
Efforts to reach Fletcher on Thursday were not successful. The court record does not reflect whether he has an attorney.
The criminal case against Fletcher was investigated by the AG’s Office special investigations division.
“Those who wear the law enforcement badge are sworn to uphold the rule of law and must be held accountable when that public trust is broken,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a written statement.
A longtime employee of the Catron County Sheriff’s Office, Fletcher was elected sheriff in 2014 and resigned in June 2021, the Silver City Daily Press reported.
The money laundering charge alleges that Fletcher engaged in a series of banking transactions intended to avoid triggering reporting requirements required by federal law, according to the criminal information.
“In November of 2018, the USDA paid over $39,000 in funds to the county as reimbursement for county resources used to combat the fire,” the AG’s Office said in a written statement.
“Fletcher took this money for his own personal use, gradually withdrawing the funds in structured cash withdrawals to avoid banking reporting requirements,” the statement said.
Fletcher also claimed hundreds of hours of overtime while serving as sheriff to supplement his salary, the AG’s Office’s statement said.
State law prohibits elected sheriffs from obtaining additional pay without legislative approval.
The Buzzard Fire blackened more than 47,000 acres in the Gila National Forest about 10 miles east of Reserve in May and June 2018.