Home News Local News Judge denies proposed plea agreement in embezzlement case

Judge denies proposed plea agreement in embezzlement case

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A sign outside the Cattle Baron restaurant at 1113 N. Main St. in Roswell. Judge Dustin K. Hunter moved on Friday to not approve a plea agreement reached by both the state and defense in the case against Brian and Tammy Casaus, who are accused of taking $1.1 million over a four-year period from the restaurant’s direct deposit accounts and redirecting the funds into their own personal bank accounts. (Daily Record File Photo)

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A judge moved Friday not to approve a change of plea agreement in the case of a married couple accused of funneling more than $1 million from a restaurant they had worked for over a four-year period.

Judge Dustin K. Hunter of New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court in Chaves County said during a hearing Friday that based on his understanding of the case and his reading of the agreement, he was uncomfortable with it, specifically portions relating to the sentence for one of the two defendants, Tammy Casaus.

Tammy Casaus and her husband Brian each face six charges of money laundering; three charges of tax fraud; and one count each of racketeering, embezzlement, conspiracy to commit embezzlement and conspiracy to commit money laundering, after they allegedly diverted a total of $1.1 million from the direct deposit accounts of the Cattle Baron restaurant between January 2012 and July 2016 and placed that money in their own personal bank accounts.

Hunter during the hearing expressed unease with the nature of the agreement because under its terms, Tammy Casaus, who had been a payroll coordinator for Cattle Baron, would receive a suspended sentence to be served on supervised probation.

“I am concerned about the signal that would send to the community. We’ve had a rash of embezzlement-type cases harming this community and it does not seem to be appropriate to the court commensurate with the crimes,” Hunter said.

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Unlike most agreements that come before the court, the sentences prescribed by the defense and prosecution did not come in the form of recommendations, but as part of the agreement — meaning Hunter could not impose a sentence other than the terms laid out in the agreement.

Many details of the agreement were not announced at the hearing by the prosecution, defense or Hunter, but Andrew Coffing, a prosecutor with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office representing the state, said under the terms of the agreed-upon deal, Brian Casaus would serve mandatory prison time.

In addition to serving a suspended sentence on supervised probation, Coffing said, the agreement also stipulates that Tammy Casaus make restitution to Cattle Barron for the money she and her husband are alleged to have stolen, and that she not receive conditional discharge, meaning the felony would remain on her record.

Coffing and the defense — represented by Doug Jones Witt, attorney for the couple — each said the sentence of Brian Casaus, who had worked for Cattle Baron for 15 years as a comptroller and office manager, was greater than that of Tammy Casaus because it was believed he was the principle actor in the conspiracy, and thus played a significantly larger role in the crimes committed.

“The approach from the state has been that Mr. Casaus was the primary actor due to his position and the evidence that was discovered and the nature of the taking throughout the case,” he said.

Witt noted that unlike Brian Casaus, Tammy Casaus was a temporary employee at Cattle Baron. He explained that given her position, Tammy Casaus would not have had access to the company accounts that her husband did.

Coffing said that he and the defense explored numerous options and felt that from the perspective of the state, the agreement was “well considered” and in the best interest of justice, and that the attorneys representing Cattle Barron also approved of the agreement.

Hunter though said he had not significantly changed his position and suggested that the parties submit the sentences that were in the agreement to the court as recommendations, rather than part of the overall agreement.

In response, Witt said the existing agreement as it pertains to Tammy Casaus was instrumental in any change of plea deal coming about in the matter.

“So it really sends the parties back to the drawing board and I know it is going to take more than a brief conference with my clients and Mr. Coffing to get around this,” he said.

Witt then made an oral motion requesting a continuance in the matter so that he, his clients and the state could come up with a different way to frame the agreement that would be amenable to all parties involved and address the concerns of the court, something that Coffing said he and the state would not object to.

Hunter granted the motion and scheduled a docket call for how to move forward in the case for April 7 at 1:30 p.m.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301. or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.