(SUNfoto by Austin Fisher) Dyon Herrera, 21, arrives for hearing at Rio Arriba Magistrate Court, July 20, in Española. The GMC Yukon pictured was being driven by Lenora Herrera, Dyon’s grandmother, which means he was defying an earlier court order by Rio Arriba Magistrate Judge Joseph Madrid to stay away from her and other parties named in his case.
The New Mexico attorney general’s office will press new criminal charges against Española Councilor Robert Seeds’s campaign assistant, after taking over a State Police investigation into alleged voter fraud.
Seeds won the March 8 race for the District 4 city council seat against incumbent Cory Lewis by just two votes, 238 to 236. Seeds received 94 votes by absentee ballot — two times more than all seven other candidates for City Council seats. Lewis received 10 absentee votes.
Lewis challenged the results in civil court, and now Seeds’s lawyer, Yvonne Quintana, will also defend 21-year-old Dyon Herrera in the voter fraud case, which Attorney General Hector Balderas intends to present to a grand jury.
“Criminal charges will be refiled at a later time,” Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Gilbert wrote in his motion to dismiss the charges against Herrera, July 20, in Rio Arriba County Magistrate Court. A statement the following week by Balderas’s office said they are continuing to investigate the election, after State Police Officer Hector Vacio charged Herrera with two counts of false voting and one count of false absentee ballots. Gilbert dismissed the charges without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled.
Robert Seeds’s wife, Laura Seeds, is alleged to have transported Herrera and had a hand in him signing three absentee ballots. Laura has been screening any calls made to Robert’s official phone number since Lewis challenged the election.
First Judicial District Attorney Jennifer Padgett handed Herrera’s case to the Special Investigations Division of the Office of the Attorney General. A State Police spokesperson refused to comment until the case is reviewed by the Office.
Two days after the charges were dropped, Quintana told the court she is now representing Herrera, and filed motions asking for a timely trial and access to the state’s evidence and witnesses. She is already representing Seeds and City Clerk Anna Squires in the original civil challenge. Through Santa Fe attorney Christopher Graeser, Lewis is asking First Judicial District Court Judge Sara Singleton to intervene and determine the legality of the early/absentee votes.
Quintana interviewed witnesses in the civil case earlier this month. Graeser wrote in an email, July 30, that he and Lewis are waiting for the state to complete the investigation. Requests for comment from Quintana were not returned.
Voters swear ballots are real
Lewis’s challenge alleges that there are enough fraudulent ballots to swing the election results in his favor, but the three questionable ballots in Herrera’s case — his grandparents, Lenora and Lee Roy Herrera, and a third voter, Ben Lopez — were not included in the final count. In a sworn affidavit, Lenora said she and Lee Roy, who has since died, signed their absentee applications and instructed Dyon to deliver them.
When Laura Seeds and Dyon Herrera brought the absentee ballot applications to city hall, Feb. 17, the actual ballots were torn in two by Lee Roy, Squires wrote in a letter to the Office of the Secretary of State.
In an interview with Vacio, Deputy City Clerk Therisa Aguilar said she and Kelli Romero, an elections officer hired by the city, salvaged the ballots and the next day, sent Dyon back to his grandparents to have them sign the ballots. Aguilar said Dyon got into a car outside city hall with Laura and came back five minutes later, bearing ballots with what appeared to be the wrong signatures.
“The handwriting on (Lee Roy’s) application compared to the one on the Oath of Registered Voter Affirmation is noticeably different and not done by the same person,” Vacio wrote in his statement of probable cause. “This was also the case in the application and Oath of Registered Voter Affirmation envelope for Lenora Herrera and Ben Lopez.”
Quintana also filed affidavits for 21 voters swearing that they did, in fact, vote themselves. Lenora and another voter alleged that they were harassed by State Police during their investigation.
Accused skirting court order by candidate’s brother in law
In June, Rio Arriba Magistrate Judge Joseph Madrid warned Herrera to stay away from parties in the case, including Seeds, Lopez and the defendant’s grandparents. Herrera is not following the order, however, as Lenora was the person who transported him to the court for a hearing on July 20.
Alexandra Naranjo, another magistrate judge at the court, recused herself from the case, July 23. Madrid had also recused himself in June, but not before allowing Dyon Herrera to go free on the voter fraud charges, on an unsecured $15,000 bond, even though he had pending felony charges in Sandoval County.
During the arraignment hearing, Madrid asked his staff to check online court records to see if Herrera had pending charges, but didn’t wait for an answer before releasing him. The judge should have probably reassigned the case to his colleague, Naranjo, since his sister-in-law, Laura Seeds, is a named part in the case. Seeds is the sister of Madrid’s wife, Frances Madrid.
“Other than M-43-FR-2016-00222 (the voter fraud case), the OAG (Office of the Attorney General) is not involved in any cases wherein Dyon Herrera has been charged and the OAG has not had any involvement in those matters in any way,” Special Assistant Attorney General Matt Baca wrote, July 29, in an emailed statement.
The three dropped voter fraud charges are all fourth-degree felonies and each carry a maximum 18-month prison sentence. If charged again and convicted on all counts, Herrera could face a total of four-and-a-half years in prison.
SUN Staff Writer Barron Jones contributed reporting to this story.
A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 4 on page A1 of the Rio Grande SUN with the headline: New Voter Fraud Charges.