Ethics Commission: Former Clerk Demanded Drugs From County Employees, Abandoned Job For Vegas Vacation

US Attorney, State AG Asked To Investigate Criminal Violations

When Linda Jaramillo was appointed by the Torrance County Commission to assume the vacated office of county clerk, she told The Independent she had one mission: “to bring back the integrity of that office. That’s it. I don’t have time to look backwards.”

Former Torrance County Clerk Yvonne Otero.

But not everyone is as forgiving as Jaramillo, it seems. This week the State Ethics commission filed a formal complaint in District Court for what it called Yvonne Otero’s “dramatic failure” of her duty to public office by “using her elected office as Torrance County Clerk and the public property of that office for her own personal benefit and to pursue personal interests.”


Otero, who was elected as Torrance County Clerk in 2020, was investigated by county officials in 2022 when several irregularities in election procedure surfaced. That investigation also substantiated allegations relating to her management of employees and off-duty drug use. The Independent has previously reported on those allegations.


Allegations in the Ethics Commission’s complaint mirror many sustained by the county’s investigation from last year, though the court filings provide more detail than has been previously reported. According to the complaint filed against Otero in District Court last week, as early as 2021 Otero demanded an employee provide her with unprescribed prescription drugs. By 2022 she was openly discussing her daily use of cocaine with office employees, saying she “needed a “small bump” to get through the day. 


The Ethics Commission also alleges that Otero employed her mother to be an election judge during the 2022 primary elections. When an employee questioned excessive hours on her mother’s timesheet, Otero “told the employee to remember that Defendant was responsible for signing the employee’s timesheet,” which the employee took as a threat to not question Otero’s mother’s pay.


By September 2022, according to court documents, Otero had stopped coming to work. She even attempted to pre-certify election tabulators for election use so she would not miss a vacation in Las Vegas, Nevada.  In October she began remotely deleting “significant numbers of unopened and unread emails” including at least two overseas military and absentee ballots sent electronically to her through a secure system.  


The county commission has since determined that Otero had abandoned her office. In January, commissioners appointed Jaramillo, a former county clerk, to serve out the remainder of Otero’s term.


The State’s Ethics Commission is seeking to impose a $5000 civil fine, the maximum allowed under the Government Conduct Act, against Otero. But this civil matter may be just the beginning of the legal saga for Otero. Suha Musa, a Commission spokesperson, says that their office has “referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General” for criminal review. 


For her part, Otero has hired Albuquerque attorney Jacob Candelaria, a former state senator who resigned his post last year, to represent her. Candelaria told the Associated Press that the Commission’s allegations were “outlandish, sexist and politically motivated.” Last week, Otero filed an emergency writ of mandamus with the State Supreme Court asking to be reinstated to her clerk post. As of press time no hearing dates had been set.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the current clerk, Linda Jaramillo. We regret the error.