On Friday January 19, a bombshell blew up that rocked the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the legal community when it was reported by all local news outlets that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants and raided 3 homes of Albuquerque Police officers and the home and law office of a prominent DWI defense attorney. On the same day, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced it had dismissed 152 active and pending DWI criminal cases because of the federal investigation.
On January 24, the KOB News Channel 4 telecasted during its 10:00 pm news program an investigative report by its entire news team that for the first time identified the 4 APD police officers and the criminal defense attorney involved in the APD corruption scandal involving the dismissal of the DWI cases. On January 25, the Albuquerque Journal published a banner headline story entitled “APD Lt., Officers ID’d in Corruption case”, The allegations involve DWI cases going back a decade”.
Below are the news stories followed by Analysis and Commentary:
KOB NEWS STORY
Following is the full Channel 4 news report in written form:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – With each day, there are more repercussions in the federal investigation into multiple Albuquerque police officers. KOB 4 spent hours independently confirming the details agents have yet to release that ultimately led to the recent dismissal of dozens of DWI cases.
None of the people we’re about to identify have been officially charged.
Why we’re naming them.
KOB 4 dug through hundreds of public records to identify four officers in APD’s DWI Unit.
We confirmed all four were just added to the Bernalillo County district attorney’s list of officers who have credibility issues as witnesses in court, also known as the Brady list or Giglio list.
KOB 4 confirmed the FBI raided the office of a local attorney who represented clients in the recently dismissed DWI cases, and other cases.
Finally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque confirms the raids are connected to their investigation. With that, the four Albuquerque police officers at the center of this federal investigation are:
- Officer Honorio Alba, Jr.
- Officer Harvey Johnson
- Officer Joshua Montano
- Officer Nelson Ortiz
A supervisor is also implicated, but we can’t independently identify him as of Wednesday night.
The local attorney being investigated is Thomas Clear III.
THE BASIS OF THE ALLEGED SCHEME
The same scenario happens time and time again in the cases we reviewed. The officers make DWI arrests, the defendants hire this particular attorney, the officers don’t show up to court, and the cases get dismissed.
KOB 4 first learned something was going on because of a situation at a home in Los Lunas last week. We’ve confirmed through property records that the home belongs to APD Officer Harvey Johnson.
Johnson’s home was raided by the FBI last Thursday, and we later found out he worked on APD’s DWI unit, and that week many of his DWI cases were dropped by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
Johnson was put on administrative leave as a part of this investigation. His name now appears on the district attorney’s list of witnesses who are not credible.
Officer Honorio Alba Jr. was actually honored for his work against drunk driving last year. The group known as MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, named him their top officer for the year 2023 in the entire state of New Mexico.
A post on social media shows APD congratulating him on winning this award. There’s one winner from each state, and he was the winner in New Mexico. It’s dated July 26, 2023, only about six months ago.
Alba made approximately $148,000 in 2023, making him one of the highest earners in the department. Right now, he’s still making money because he’s on paid administrative leave while this all plays out.
Alba is the officer whose name appears the most in the cases recently dismissed by the Bernalillo County DA’s office. He’s named in 72 of the 156 dismissed cases, or 46% of them.
Officer Joshua Montano has been on the DWI unit for a long time. In fact, back in 2022, he was hit and severely injured by a drunk driver. The community and a local church came together for the officer and raised thousands of dollars to help with medical expenses.
Montano is also on administrative leave and no longer considered a credible witness by the DA’s office.
The final officer we can confirm is Officer Nelson Ortiz. He is another member of the DWI unit who happened to be one of the highest earners for the department in 2023. He made around $136,000 last year.
Montano is also reportedly on paid administrative leave right now, along with three of the four other people under investigation. Of those 156 dismissed cases dismissed so far, his name appears in 11 of them.
Thomas Clear III is the same attorney who keeps showing up on the list of dismissed DWI cases. KOB 4 confirmed last week that FBI agents also raided his office in a Mid Heights neighborhood Thursday.
Neighbors told us five or six FBI vehicles and twice as many agents showed up at the home office around 8 a.m. Thursday. They were shouting “FBI” and “search warrant” multiple times before realizing no one was home, and they used a battering ram to break down the front door.
The final element we needed to independently connect these officers to the investigation came Wednesday. Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman confirmed all four were recently added to his office’s Brady or Giglio list.
The Giglio list is a list of all the law enforcement officers who have lost their credibility in court. Very recently, those officers ended up on the district attorney’s office Giglio-Brady list.
Once on this list, anytime an officer is called as a witness in a case, the prosecutors would have to disclose that to the defense.
The Law Office of the Public Defender says the Giglio-Brady list is one way to hold police officers accountable and ensure their testimony in court is reliable.
“DWI cases are based on the testimony of the DWI investigative officer so without that testimony there is no way to continue on with that case, and it is extremely disappointing, very upsetting. But it is something we have to do. I think in due time, people will understand why they were put on that list,” Bregman said.
Bregman says he couldn’t give any more details at this time because he doesn’t want to interfere with the federal investigation.
The question everyone has is why did these officers not show up to court? Was there an incentive? That’s the part of the investigation no one is clarifying yet.
KOB 4 asked Bregman about it on Wednesday:
“Let me put it to you this way, there’s an ongoing federal investigation. I want the federal authorities, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do a thorough, clean investigation to root out any issues they see. And when they complete that, I imagine a lot more will come to light – but at this point, I don’t want to compromise that, I want them to be able to do their work.”
The link to the KOB 4 news story is here:
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL FRONT PAGE ARTICLE
Following is the Albuquerque Journal January 25 headline story followed by the link to the story entitled “APD Lt., Officers ID’d in Corruption case”; The allegations involve DWI cases going back a decade” written by Journal staff writers Mathew Reisen and Colleen Heid:
“An Albuquerque police lieutenant and four officers being investigated by the FBI in connection with years of corruption related to DWI cases have been identified.
The Journal has learned, through court records and property searches, that Lt. Justin Hunt and officers Honorio Alba Jr., Joshua Montaño, Harvey Johnson Jr. and Nelson Ortiz are those under federal scrutiny.
None of the men has been charged, and no arrests have been made in the ongoing investigation by the FBI.
The allegations involve the dismissals of DWI cases filed in Bernalillo County’s Metro Court over at least the past decade and involve a group of current and former DWI-unit officers, at least one Albuquerque defense attorney and his paralegal.
Hunt is on administrative assignment, and the other four are on paid administrative leave.
Albuquerque Police Department officials have not identified the officers or detailed the nature of the alleged scheme, but said all five are also facing an investigation by the Internal Affairs division.
The FBI also has been tight-lipped about the particulars of the case, and APD officials told the Journal on Tuesday they have received only limited information.
Hunt and Montaño both declined to comment to the Journal on Wednesday. Johnson Jr. and Alba Jr. did not return calls for comment, and Ortiz could not be reached.
On Jan. 18, FBI agents searched the homes of Johnson and Alba in Los Lunas and Edgewood, respectively. They also searched the law office of prominent defense attorney Thomas Clear III and the home of Clear’s paralegal, Ricardo “Rick” Mendez.
Within hours of the searches, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced the dismissal of more than 100 misdemeanor DWI cases. A Journal analysis of the 152 cases dismissed so far found that 136, or nearly 90%, were filed by four of the officers on leave.
Alba was responsible for 67 of the cases; Montaño had 41; and Johnson was listed as the arresting officer on 28. Ortiz was listed as the arresting officer on five of the dismissed cases.
All four officers were added to the District Attorney’s Giglio disclosure list, which names law enforcement personnel deemed untrustworthy to testify.
APD Chief Harold Medina told the Journal on Tuesday that the department caught wind of an alleged scheme in December 2022 after overhearing a conversation about it that involved one of the officers now under scrutiny. Medina said the details weren’t accurate and the lead didn’t materialize into a full-fledged investigation.
In October, Medina said, a similar allegation came up in court, leading APD to open a probe into the officers and other players in the criminal justice system. He said that’s when he learned the FBI was already doing its own investigation.
“In the end, the FBI and I spoke and I said, ‘Look, we’re looking at the same thing. Let’s work together,’” Medina said. Nevertheless, he said FBI officials kept many details of the case “close to their chest.” The two agencies began to work together to some degree, he added.
- Lt. Justin Hunt was the second-highest paid city employee in 2022, earning more than $217,000. Hunt, who lives in Rio Rancho, had left the DWI unit and, most recently, was a lieutenant in the Southeast area command.
- Honorio Alba Jr., senior police officer, was one of more than a dozen officers who made more than $124,000 in 2022. In August, MADD recognized Alba as Outstanding Urban DWI Officer for New Mexico. APD noted the award on its Instagram, writing, “Officer Alba is 1 out of 50 recipients of the award. Thank you for your hard work and dedicated service!”
- Joshua Montaño, senior police officer, made headlines in July 2022 when a drunken driver ran a red light and hit his car as he left work — putting him through multiple surgeries and a stint in rehabilitation. Before that, Montaño made the news for two high-profile DWI stops: the May 2017 arrest of Ryan Flynn, Gov. Susana Martinez’s former secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, and the 2018 arrest of former Albuquerque legislator Monica Youngblood. In 2021, Montaño made a recruitment video for APD, saying he loved the prevention aspect of his job on the DWI unit. He said in the video, “knowing that person is impaired and being able to stop them and safely get them off the road is the thing I love most about this job.”
- Harvey Johnson Jr., senior police officer, who lives in Los Lunas, was a subject of a 2020 article written by his wife, Alyssa, about her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The article discussed living with a police officer who was required to continue working with the public when many businesses were shuttered because his profession was deemed essential. The post appeared on abqmom.com.
- Nelson Ortiz, senior police officer, was in a KRQE news story in January 2020 after he arrested two men who were driving drunk and drag racing on Montgomery. In lapel video shared with the news story, Ortiz told one of the men, who could barely stand, “You could have killed somebody out there. You think that’s funny?”
The link to the Albuquerque Journal article is here
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Both Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina must ultimately be held accountable and take full responsibility for failed leadership of APD and this most recent APD scandal. Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Harold Medina instead have been in full fledge “politcal spin cycle” of “pivot, deflect and blame” since the news broke and since the Albuquerque City Council accused them of failed leadership in dealing with the scandal as they attempt to get ahead of this most recent scandal involving APD. They both have attempted to take credit for the investigation and for taking action to hold bad cops accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced their hand and after they both allowed the problem to fester for 6 years.
Chief Medina said city councilors were “out of line” demanding information about the scandal. Mayor Keller said of the council “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” and jeopardizing the investigation. Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022, but he did nothing. They both admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD, the decision was made to initiate a city criminal investigation.
Keller and Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admitted that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme has been going on the entire 6 years they have been in charge of APD but they never detected what was going on. They admitted that only after they found out the Feds were investigating APD they decided to put things in high gear with their own investigation and to proclaim cooperation.
These admissions come from a Mayor who was first elected with great bravado as the white knight State Auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. This is the same candidate for Mayor who said six years ago said he was “uniquely qualified” to be Mayor above all others when he had absolutely no experience in municipal government affairs let alone law enforcement.
Chief Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first got a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit in December 2022, yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year. Medina said “They believe it was DWI officers, and that one had made the comment that they were making money off of DWI stops.”
It is downright laughable when Chief Medina told one news outlet he has never looked the other way at police corruption in more than three decades he has been on the force. Keller in particular has gone out of his way to defend Medina proclaiming Medina was holding APD police officers accountable. They both simply lied. Both have an extensive history of allowing and ignoring overtime pay abuses as police officers were paid in the hundreds of thousands in police overtime by gaming the system and being paid two and three times their annual salaries with many of those officers assigned to the DWI Unit with some of those DWI unit officers now being accused of bribery and conspiracy to dismiss DWI cases.
There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in APD police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Keller and Medina have done nothing to curb the overtime pay abuse and there have been no prosecutions for time card fraud or overtime pay abuse by police officers, especially those assigned to the DWI Unit, even when found by the audits. In fact one of the APD Officers identified in the current scandal was assigned to the DWI and paid over $124,000 because of excessive overtime. Bribes taken to get DWI charges dismiss may have been considered a bonus of some sort.
Keller and Median have emphasized that only 5 police officers have been implicated knowing full well that the federal investigation is continuing and is likely going to reveal far more officers are involved with the corruption and perhaps result in the dismissal of even more cases.
There is absolutely no doubt that APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent because of this scandal. APD will likely be viewed by many as again having just another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and to the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect”.
There is little doubt that the whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. The public will demand that there is a thorough investigation of the officers involved in the crimes and the people and supervisors who should have known what was going on.
This is so even before any charges have been filed against anyone, before any one is fired from APD and before any action is brought against the police officers involved for government corruption and criminal conspiracy to dismiss cases working with a prominent criminal defense attorney. Should the criminal defense attorney be charged and convicted of the crimes, he is likely facing disbarment from the practice of law.
Throughout the APD Police Academy and most of its classroom walls as well as APD main station and substations are placards that proclaim APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect”. Until Mayor Tim Keller and his administration and for that matter the City Council take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall.