State police descended on former sheriff and current magistrate judge Heath White Tuesday, and say he is being investigated for “suspected embezzlement of Torrance County funds.”
State police spokesman Ray Wilson said Thursday evening that White has not been charged with a crime.
Witnesses in White’s neighborhood south of Edgewood said dozens of state police units blocked roads, questioned neighbors and drove at high rates of speed with lights flashing.
State Police on Wednesday issued a press release saying they had opened an investigation “into a former Torrance County Sheriff’s Office Employee for suspected embezzlement of Torrance County funds,” adding that they had “served search warrants on a residence, business and vehicle in Edgewood.”
State Police vehicles were seen at the Old Mill Feed Store in Edgewood on Tuesday, which is managed by White’s wife.
Despite repeated requests for an interview, White could not be reached for comment by the time The Independent went to press.
Torrance County Manager Wayne Johnson said Thursday that he was unaware of the investigation until the day the warrants were served, adding that he didn’t think that is atypical. “I don’t think this is unusual in a community the size of Torrance County, where everybody knows everybody, It wouldn’t surprise me if [State Police] kept this close, for a lot of different reasons.”
Johnson started as Torrance County manager in January, after White had left the post of sheriff, having just been elected Magistrate Judge. He had served two terms as sheriff.
Before coming to Torrance County, Johnson had served as a Bernalillo County Commissioner and State Auditor.
“We have to see how it plays out, and at the end of the day, public officials have a high responsibility for taxpayer dollars, and we have high expectations of them,” Johnson said.
A resident who lives near White said the State Police disrupted the whole neighborhood, calling it “pretty ridiculous” and “over the top for sure.”
“There was no immediate threat, and they had lights on and everything,” the resident said, requesting anonymity due to fear of retribution.
“I was here with the grandkids, and kept seeing all these cars,” said another resident who lives near White. “I said, ‘Why are they at Heath’s house? Is he having a meeting?’”
The resident said she saw State Police knocking security cameras off White’s barn, and also described the police presence as “over the top.”
White served two terms as Torrance County Sheriff, leaving the job due to term limits.
He spent his career in law enforcement before being elected to the Magistrate Judge position.
“What I would encourage people to do is wait and see how this comes out,” Johnson said. “Wait to see how the investigation runs. Everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, particularly when there aren’t even charges filed.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.