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LANL employee pleads no contest in theft of tools

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Richard Atencio was arrested last year for theft of tools, equipment; one tool was radioactive

By Sarah von Sternberg

A Los Alamos National Laboratory employee from Española pleaded no contest to larceny and tampering with evidence Monday in First Judicial Court in Santa Fe.
Richard Atencio, 52, was arrested April 4, 2016, for the theft of lab tools in September 2015. One of the tools was found to be radioactive.
All employees who may have had contact with the tools were tested and decontaminated without incident.
Police caught Atencio north of Tech Area 18 attempting to dump the items on the side of the road.  
Items recovered at the scene included a band saw valued at $5,493, and two dollies valued at $7,180.
Police were able to match the exact price of the items through records kept by LANL. Other stolen items included a box of pipe fittings, two pairs of work gloves, a bottle of liquid cleaning agent, a yellow roll of tape, a silver metal transport hitch, two rolls of white tape, blue and silver tow rope, and a green water hose.
One of the tools was found to be radioactive, which prompted all employees who may have had contact with the tools to be called to TA 54 to be tested.
According to the district attorney, all items were recovered and returned to LANL. Atencio was then charged with larceny and attempting to tamper with evidence.
Atencio waved his preliminary hearing in district court. He appeared out of custody with his attorney, Stephen Aarons, before Judge T. Glenn Ellington for his plea hearing.
Deputy District Attorney Kent Wahlquist presented the proposed agreement to Judge Ellington.
“The agreement is that the defendant will plead no contest to larceny over $250 and no contest to attempted tampering with evidence,” Wahlquist said.
The state and defendant were in agreement about this proposal.
The judge made sure Atencio understood and accepted this agreement because it meant he was giving up his right to a trial by jury and also his right to confrontation. In addition, one consequence of a no contest plea is giving up the presumption of innocence. A no contest plea is considered a guilty plea by the courts.
“The court has the authority going forward to impose a sentence and ultimately if there is a violation, you can come back and the court has the authority to potentially sentence you,” Ellington said.
Atencio affirmed his understanding.
When asked how he pleaded to both charges, Atencio replied, “No contest.”
The court found the factual basis sufficient to support the plea and the terms of the agreement reasonable and in the interest of justice.
Atencio was sentenced with 364 days for each count one and count two, which run consecutively to each other for a period of two years, minus two days on supervised probation. Wahlquist also commented that the state had no objection to his technical violations program.
The defendant was instructed to report to adult probation and parole in Española by 9 a.m. Tuesday.
LANL Spokesman Kevin Roark could not confirm Tuesday if Atencio remained employed at the lab.