FBI targeting corruption in New Mexico rural areas

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it will begin an aggressive campaign to drive out corruption in New Mexico's rural areas after the state saw a rash of high profile cases of small town corruption in recent years.

Chief Division Counsel Stephan Marshall said Wednesday that the Albuquerque division of the FBI is launching the initiative.

"There's not a low-grade corruption level that we're willing to accept for the people of the state of New Mexico," Marshall told the Albuquerque Journal.

Marshall said the state's larger metropolitan areas are better protected against public corruption because bureau offices are often located in them, and because news media outlets in cities are generally more aggressive. Smaller towns are vulnerable to devastating losses and reduction in services, Marshall said, even if the amount of money misspent pales in comparison to that lost to corruption in places like Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

He said the FBI hopes residents will come forward to report wrongdoing.

In 2011, the border town of Columbus voted to dissolve its police department after a case involving arms smuggling to Mexican cartels led to guilty pleas from a dozen people, including the town's former mayor and a trustee.

In Sunland Park, the mayoral race was at the center of an alleged extortion plot. Former Sunland Park Mayor-elect Daniel Salinas was arrested last year over allegations he tried to blackmail a fellow mayoral opponent to force him from the race using a secretly recorded video of him getting a lap dance. Salinas was out on bond when he was arrested again on corruption charges stemming from a sweeping probe of the town.

Salinas has pleaded not guilty to nearly three dozen charges that include extortion, bribery, fraud and illegal kickbacks.

Carol Lee, the FBI's special agent in charge, said that public corruption, even involving relatively small sums of money in small towns, can paralyze law enforcement, reduce services and lock up community budgets.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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