Sunland Park Mayor Pro Tem Danny Salinas and City Manager Jaime Aguilera have been arrested on charges they allegedly tried to extort a mayoral candidate to drop out of the mayoral race.
Amy Orlando, 3rd Judicial District Attorney for Southern New Mexico, said Salinas and Aguilera were arrested on Saturday night and charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, tampering with evidence, and conspiracy.
Orlando said a search of the Sunland Park city hall offices last week was connected to these charges.
Salinas, who is a Sunland Park mayoral candidate, denied last week that he was involved in any extortion attempts as alleged by Gerardo Hernandez. Hernandez, also a mayoral candidate, alleged that someone connected with Salinas' campaign videotaped him with a topless woman and then tried to extort him to get out of the race by threatening to release the video footage.
Hernandez said he was in his office with his campaign manager, his potential public relations officer and an unidentified woman, when she began to dance topless for all three of them.
And all the while, unknown to Hernandez, he was being taped.
"She started dancing and she was suggestive," said Hernandez who claimed the woman was a guest of the man he was considering hiring as his public relations officer.
Hernandez maintained he was set up, and it's a form of dirty politics pushed by his opponent, Salinas.
Hernandez said he was approached by people from Salinas' campaign about the video.
"They said, 'We have a video of you and we're going to release it if you don't withdraw from the race.' And I said, 'Well, you can release it, because I'm not going to withdraw from the race,'" Hernandez said.
Hernandez said he went to police with the threats.
"I thought it was blackmail and (the police officer) said, 'no it's extortion,'" Hernandez said.
Salinas said early last weekhe's not under investigation for extortion.
"(Hernandez) is going come up with a lot of excuses," Salinas last week. "He's a married man, so I'd be thinking of a couple of excuses and try to blame this on different people and trying to make up my little story."
The Sunland Park mayor's office gained national attention last year when Mayor Martin Resendiz admitted he was drunk when he signed contracts committing the city to $1 million in work. He and City Councilor Daniel Salinas were both accused of soliciting donations from California-based architectural firm Synthesis+, according to an August 2011 Associated Press article.
In a lawsuit seeking payment, Synthesis+ claims that when an executive went to meet with Salinas for payment, the councilor asked for a $6,000 donation toward the city's library project. In a later meeting with the mayor, court records allege, Resendiz told the executive he "rewards constituents who look out for his political growth, interest and career."
After the Synthesis+ representative "declined the overture," according to the court complaint, Resendiz told him he had "changed his mind and that another firm will be handling the projects, but you're welcome to assist (Councilor) Salinas on his personal new library project" for his district.
Synthesis+ is suing the city for payment on nine contracts Resendiz signed in June 2008 related to a series of projects the city was planning.
In a deposition in the case, the mayor said he signed the documents after having way too much to drink with Synthesis+ officials at a local restaurant. He said he didn't know what he was signing.
Sunland Park contends the contracts were not valid because they weren't approved by the City Council.
Resendiz has not been seen at city hall for several months.