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Celina Barela-Benavidez, 41, of Rio Rancho, was arrested Feb. 24 by Los Alamos Police after she confessed to using more than $18,000 of company funds to purchase computers and computer accessories for her family and friends.
Tracy Maddox, the owner of Southwest Office Solutions, reported the crime and was not available for comment. Maddox told police that she began to experience an increasing number of incidents of merchandise missing from the store.
An inventory and account check revealed that numerous items were purchased by the business account that weren’t supposed to be purchased. She told police that Barela-Benavidez, as office manager, was the only one who was allowed to make purchases on behalf of the store. She also told police that when she did the inventory check, Barela-Benavidez called in sick. A closer check also revealed that none of the computers were the type she would purchase to supply her clients with.
Maddox was finally convinced it was Barela-Benavidez when she noticed a May 2012 order for two HP laptops and one Microsoft Office home and student key, shipped to an address in Las Cruces, where Barela-Benavidez’s son lives.
Most of the purchases were made between April 4, 2011 and July 2012. Maddox told the police she never would have noticed the purchases if it wasn’t for another employee telling her about it.
“Maddox said that when she checks on her business purchases she sees a long itemized list of items and looks at the whole number, “ Officer Jack Casias wrote in the report. “Maddox said it is very easy to hide small amounts, like $4,000 and $5,000 purchases.”
It also was noted in the report Barela-Benavidez camouflaged many of the purchases by making it seem like they were orders for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a company Southwest Office Solutions does a lot of business with. Police created a list and dates of all the items that Benevidez confessed to purchasing with SOS funds.
April 14, 2011— One Elite 40P HP SBUY computer, $936.05
Oct. 14, 2011 — One Toshiba PDA01U-00101F, $392.97
Oct. 20, 2011— One HP Computer Elite 8560W-17-2630QM, $1,857.90
Nov. 21, 2011— Three Toshiba America PDAs, $1,154.55
Nov. 30, 2011— Microsoft Office Home software: $217.04
Dec. 1, 2011— Two HP Computers SBUY PRO 656OB, and Relaunch agrigator: $1,603.31
March 29, 2012 — Toshiba accessories: $9.81
March 29, 2012 — One Toshiba Thrive tablet: $528.90
March 29, 2012 — One Toshiba Multi Dock: $38.73
April 16, 2012 — One tablet AC adapter: $10.35
April 16, 2012 — One Toshiba Pen and covers: $9.85
May 25, 2012 — One HP 4530S I7 computer, one, HP 4430S I3 computer and one version of Office student software, $1,525.24
June 4, 2012 — Two HP 4530S I7 computers: $1,832.62
July 3, 2012 — Five HP 4530S I7 2670M, HP Elite 8560P/I7 computers: $4,989.68
July 17, 2012 — Three of the HP Pro 6560B I5-2450 computers: $2,456.67
So far, the total amount of funds embezzled by Benavidez comes out to $17,563.67.
Barela-Benavidez was charged with 15 counts of embezzlement, including one third-degree felony, eight fourth-degree felonies, one misdemeanor and five petty misdemeanors.
She was released from the Los Alamos County Detention Center on a $50,000 bond.
She is due in court for a status hearing March 26 .
According to the New Mexico Legal Group website, the criminal punishments for embezzlement vary based whether the conviction is for a felony or misdemeanor.
• Up to 6 months in jail and maximum $500 fine for a petty misdemeanor
• Up to 1 year in jail, up to $1,000 fine, and up to 1 year of probation for full misdemeanor
• Up to 18 months in prison for fourth degree felony
• Up to 3 years in prison for third degree felony
• Up to 9 years in prison for second degree felony
According to New Mexico statutes, embezzlement is a:
• Petty misdemeanor if the embezzled items are worth $250 or less
• Full Misdemeanor if the embezzled items are worth $250 but less than $500
• Fourth degree felony if the embezzled items are worth $500 but less than $2,500
• Third degree felony if the embezzled items are worth $2,500 but less than $20,000
• Second degree felony if the items embezzled are worth $20,000 or more