Attorney General Hector Balderas handed down felony indictments against former Torrance County Sheriff and magistrate judge Heath White, filed May 2 in Torrance County Magistrate Court.
A joint press conference was held May 2 by the Attorney General, State Auditor and State Police.
A criminal complaint charges White with “six felonies and one misdemeanor including embezzlement, violations of government conduct act and misuse of public money.” He is also charged with receiving stolen property, according to court documents. Balderas said White could face up to 17 years in prison if convicted.
The six felony charges listed in the complaint against White include embezzlement over $20,000; making or permitting false public voucher; criminal solicitation to commit making or permitting false voucher; official act for personal financial interest; misuse of public money and receiving stolen property.
White has not been arrested, according to Major Tim Johnson, leader of the State Police Investigations Bureau.
Attorney for Heath White, Sam Bregman, told The Independent, “Judge White has done absolutely nothing illegal and we look forward to the opportunity to clear his good name. Judge White can explain all of the misguided allegations. We look forward to the preliminary hearing.”
Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran said that there will be an arraignment within the next few days, “likely in Torrance County.”
“Heath White violated the trust by using the office of sheriff to enrich himself,” Balderas said.
Allegedly, dozens of purchase orders were issued for goods that resulted in personal gain for White. According to Balderas, “nearly $157,000 of misuse and abuse. This was all county money.”
Johnson said at the press conference that he started the investigation this March, and conducted interviews and document reviews before obtaining search warrants.
On April 23, State Police executed search warrants on White’s home, vehicle and an Edgewood business, The Old Mill Feed Store. The search of White’s home and the Edgewood business found items allegedly paid for with Sheriff’s department funds, Balderas said.
“Many of these items are still unaccounted for,” Balderas said, adding, “More importantly, I’m very concerned that there were dangerous weapons purchased and weapons that are still unaccounted for in the community. This remains a risk for multiple agencies.” He said an assault rifle and several pistols are still missing.
Balderas said State Police also found “generators, security systems and many other items.”
Balderas said that in 2015 the state Legislature approved $21,000 for the maintenance of Torrance County Sheriff’s vehicles, and that the purchase orders were then allegedly used to obtain parts for White’s personal vehicles.
Balderas said, “He weakened public safety in his own community.” He said the money was intended for weapons for officers, parts for vehicles to improve response time and save lives, “yet we found these automobile parts in his own personal vehicle.”
State Auditor Brian Colón said that on April 29 his office “put Torrance County and its citizens on notice that we were extremely concerned about the work and the issues identified by the State Police and the Attorney General and we would be mandating and executing a complete review of internal controls, or lack thereof in this case, making sure that all the checks and balances that should be in place are actually in place and being utilized.”
“What we know is over the last three years there have been at least two occasions when our auditors have identified a lack of oversight and control of inventory and the county failed to address those issues,” Colón said.
Balderas said, “I’ve referred this matter to the Law Enforcement Academy Board because [White] is a licensed police officer and also, because he is on the bench, and this was not self-reported, I’ve also referred this immediately to the Judicial Standards Commission which handles discipline of all sitting judges.”
Asked by The Independent if White continues to sit on the bench, Balderas replied, “We’ve contacted Judicial Standards twice and they assure us that they are already taking disciplinary action.”
Asked by The Independent about possible further indictments, Johnson said, “I can’t comment on that yet, the investigation is ongoing.”
White has declined public comment, referring all questions to his attorney.