Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 5, 1989 · Page 12
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Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico · Page 12

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Albuquerque, New Mexico
Issue Date:
Thursday, October 5, 1989
Page:
Page 12
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A12 ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL Thursday, October 5, 1989 x-rroecutor ountainair 08C Say B Hinder M Probe CONTINUED FROM PAGE A1 concludes someone was killed by a law enforcement officer or was killed to prevent testimony by a potential federal witness. Yontz, a former assistant district attorney in Bernalillo County, worked for the AG's office from July 1988 until he resigned in January. He said Wednesday he quit over frustration with the handling of the Sandlin case and another investigation. Scarantino was hired by West-heimer in March, assuming Yontz's role as the supervising attorney helping direct investigators on the Sandlin case. He said he was fired Friday and two of the four investigators on the case were reassigned last week within days of turning up a "very, very substantial break" in the investigation. Scarantino wouldn't say what the information was but said it "took a lot of fighting with Mr. Westheimer and Mr. Gillespie to get to the point where we could talk to a witness. I saw agents being chewed out for talking to people with information or people who know people with information." Westheimer said he couldn't discuss the reasons for Scarantino's dismissal, but he said it had nothing to do with the Sandlin investigation. Scarantino said he was complimented the day before for his work but was asked Friday by Westheimer for his resignation. When he refused, he said, Westheimer fired him. "There was no reason given," Scarantino said. "I was told there was no problem with my work. When I requested the reason, Westheimer said, 'We don't have to give you one.' " Stratton said no commendation or praise for Scarantino had come out of his office, a statement echoed by Westheimer. Neither Stratton nor Westheimer would comment on Scarantino's contention that there was a major break in the case last week. Gillespie also declined to comment on that but said of the allegations that investigators were removed, "It's just not true." He said the lead investigator, Bill Richardson, is still assigned to it. Yontz and Scarantino said they decided to go to the Journal with their concerns after Scarantino'was fired and the agents were removed from the case. Scarantino and Yontz said they were "greatly concerned about the future of the case" despite the fact the investigators "have done as good a job as can be expected considering the obstacles thrown in their path and the devastating errors committed by people higher up in the Attorney General's office." They encouraged the FBI to continue to "vigorously pursue this matter" and asked for Torrance County District Attorney Lee De-schamps to begin his own investigation. "If we don't speak out publicly and this case is closed and ruled a suicide, then we're going to have a guy that killed a police officer still running loose in Mountainair," said Yontz, who is now in private practice. The two men appeared for the interview with Sandlin's father, Tom Sandlin, who retired from the Albuquerque Police Department in late 1987 after 21 years and up to now hasn't commented about the Natural Resources Nominee Criticized For Industry Bias THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON - The Senate Agriculture Committee chairman on Wednesday criticized President Bush's choice for a top natural resources job as more concerned about pleasing special interests than protecting the public trust. "In government, the public interest has to come first," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, told James Cason, the nominee for assistant secretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment during confirmation hearings. Cason, 35, has been a high-ranking official in the Interior Department since 1982 and is acting head of Land and Minerals Management. Leahy said as a government official, Cason's one assignment has been to protect the public interest. "Time and time again, he has failed that assignment," said Leahy, who grilled Cason during two days of hearings on decisions he made at Interior. "When it came to protecting the spotted owl, Mr. Cason chose timber interests over the public welfare," the senator said in his closing statement. "When it came to getting tough on oil and gas companies who were not paying their fair share of royalties, the decisions were made behind closd doors. Key parties were excluded from meetings.'' ' 'y . I M ' 1 1 I 1 James Scarantino was fired as a General's Office Friday. progress of investigation. Tom Sandlin said he was "very disturbed" about the prosecutors' charges and thanked them for their "supreme sacrifice" in trying to solve the case. "We stand behind you and support you," said Sandlin. Scarantino, who prosecuted police corruption and organized crime cases in Philadelphia before moving to New Mexico, said investi gators now have several prime suspects but he wonders about the chances of a successful prosecu tion. "Looking back on the one and half years of this uninterrupted history of errors in this case, what ever promise there was of the AG solving this case has just been a cruel lie," Scarantino said after reading the prepared statement. He said the list of suspects has been known to the AG "for a long time and few have been added." "For unknown reasons, the AG's office has refused to come out and say this is a homicide," Scarantino said. "As recently as the past sever al weeks, there has oeen serious discussion in the office that the file would be closed as a suicide." Westheimer said: "We have always investigated the Sandlin case as an unexplained shooting. That has never changed." Stratton, who was reached at the airport while traveling to Oklahoma to attend funeral services for his grandmother, said he believed it was a murder. Gillespie said the office has kept the case alive and never wanted to close the investigation. Obstacles? Westheimer is a tough prosecutor and he asks tough questions." Gillespie said. "When we arrest someone, it will be the right person. If we indict someone, it will be someone who we can convict. "It makes me angry that they are making those comments. I've been a cop for 19 years and working hard at solving this." Scarantino said he has been accused of not wanting to seek the truth to "simply prove it was the homicide of a police officer because it was police officer and because of the deal with the insurance." Tom Sandlin said the private insurance company paid on the Leahy said Cason tried to stop the government from collecting oil royalties, even where evidence of collusion or underpayment among companies existed. During questioning, Leahy said Cason changed an audit system when the oil industry reacted negatively to it, even though it was designed to collect millions of dollars in underpaid royalties owed the Indian tribes and the state and federal governments. Cason stopped audits of any leases negotiated before 1980, but allowed oil companies to continue collecting overpayments from the government for those leases, said Leahy. Cason said that by concentrating on audits of leases after 1980 and eliminating the ones that came earlier, the department was merely making the best use of its audit staff. In addition, Cason said the government could make more money through the post-1980 audits. Leahy chastised Cason for not consulting with the states or the Indian tribes before eliminating the pre-1980 audits. "It's like a judge in a divorce case locking the wife out of the courtroom and dealing only with the husband," said Leahy. li -, r ff prosecutor in the state Attorney policy after determining it was a homicide and all proceeds will go to his son's 3-year-old son, Robbie. A $50,000 benefit the U.S. Justice Department awards to the survivors of police officers killed in the line of duty is pending. Scarantino said he initially approached Yontz for information on the case and they began to r. 6 BLOWOUT & SME5 ' ' ' I I I f f t f' ' ' jit. ' M'' JX '''J'4' J i 7 " I If 1 I; I 0 ) i i ' ? 7 ' ' J Selection 7? f (J- t X r X, M - James Yontz Quit in disgust, January 1989 compare experiences. Yontz described the investigation as frustrating. "Under the auspices of supervising an investigation, the investigation was in effect thwarted " he said. "Any time things started getting very, very close to finding out pertinent information, (the investigators) were precluded from doing it . . . and Gillespie and Westheimer IRTHBAYflftC K ' f f i (, i 2 For Savings 2For289 Raffinati Suits Save $60-$ 160 on 2! Single-& double-breasted in wools & blends. Reg. $1754225 169" 2 For 299 Johnny Carson Wool-Blend Suits Save $120-$150 on 2! Entire stock of solids & patterns. Reg. $210-$225 199" 2 For $389 Botany Gladiator & Botany 500 Suits Save $111 on 2! Superb fit & fabrics in many shades & patterns. Reg, $250 OPE. EVEXIXGS: CORONADO CENTER may vary by rtor. Interim awlcdowtu ptv have Ixii4keg. 'Typical price items are everyday value priced. took over." Scarantino said requests to "go after" drug dealers in the area were "routinely denied," while Yontz said Westheimer and Gillespie refused to allow inquiry into the disappearance of the marijuana from the Torrance County Sheriffs Department. Scarantino also said investigators weren't allowed to travel out of state to interview the girlfriend of the man who found Sandlin within minutes after the shooting. Yontz said that within weeks of Sandlin's death, Westheimer stopped the interrogation of the same man by an Army Intelligence officer, who he said was making progress in the interview. According to Scarantino, Westheimer told the investigator "to have no further contact with this individual and nothing was done with this witness for another seven months or so. Inexcusable. The passage of time is critical in investigating the case of violence, you can't sit around and wait until six months later." Other allegations leveled by the former prosecutors include claims that: Gillespie discussed the possibility of prosecuting Yontz for writing a letter to Tom Sandlin in January stating that his son had been murdered. Scarantino said Gillespie argued that Yontz had committed insurance fraud because Sandlin later submitted the letter in order to collect on his son's life insurance, which wouldn't have paid off had Sandlin committed suicide. Gillespie said: "I think that is SAT. 10-6, SLA. 12-6 LOWER LEVEL 881- noo false. I don't think anyone ever even considered that." investigators in tne ottice were . precluded from tape-recording & number of interviews under the theory it would make them less ' competent in writing their reports an unwritten policy that extended to other criminal investigations. ' "I tried to explain when it comes down to court if the person denies the statement, it's not going to make ; a hill of beans difference what the investigator gets up and says, it ' becomes a swearing match," Yontz said. "If you had that person's; statement on tape, you have the impeachment." Westheimer said the office policy , of not taping interviews is good police procedure and is followed by the FBI. "Our investigators all went through a training program on interviewing and interrogation techniques within the last year," he said. "It was decided and the trainer from New York concurred with the I policy of not tape recording inter- Gillespie said the public statements by Scarantino and Yontz won't help efforts to solve the case. "I think (their statements) will ' make our job tougher and the case harder to prosecute," he said. "This won't help the Sandlin family. I have never ever considered putting this case away. I have had a lot of frustrations. I want to bring it to a conclusion, but when I do, I want to do it right. "It was brought to our office in the first place because of me, and Steve and Hal allowed it." 79" 2 For '149 Haggar Herringbone aportcoats Rich wool blends, outstanding detailing & fit. Typical $100' 99" 2 For 189 Classic Navy Blazers Year-round wool blend with gold-tone buttons. 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