Throughout the tenure of former Springer, New Mexico Mayor Danny Cruz, newly-uncovered citizen accounts, court records, police reports, and legal documents display a decades-long string of questionable activity, including frivolous firings, voter fraud, threatening letters, and conflicts of interest, to name a few. For nearly thirty years, Springer has been riddled with scandal. Now, in this three-part series, this being the first, JohnforNM.com will detail the unearthed story behind years of nefarious governance.
Danny Cruz Becomes Mayor
The underhanded activity, which spans nearly three decades and four mayors, can most clearly be traced back to the reign of longtime Mayor Danny Cruz, who was first elected in March of 1994 by a margin of only 50 votes, despite his lawless past. That past included a DWI arrest in the early afternoon of May 16, 1993, in which Cruz admitted to drinking three beers and a shot of tequila before taking the wheel, according to a sworn statement by Officer Scott Stanfield. Another undisclosed detail to the townspeople was that Cruz knowingly took and spent more than $37,000 in overpayments from the U.S. Army, which will be elaborated on shortly.
During the campaign, Cruz ran an ad in the Springer News-Bulletin promising he would “work for the Town of Springer,” as well as “initiate ‘Team Effort’ city government” and “improve Emergency Services (Ambulance/Fire/Police).” Unfortunately, those promises would not only be broken, but the town would see many bumps in the road during his tenure, including a decline in population by almost one-third, whereas comparable nearby towns, such as Cimarron and Maxwell grew or remained steady.
Beginning his term as Mayor, Danny Cruz displayed what can be accurately described as paranoid and despotic tendencies, shown by multiple correspondences and notes from town meetings. One document of note is a letter dated February 24, 1995, from Police Chief Ed Martin, in response to a previous letter and conversation with Cruz regarding the chain of command.
This letter is proof of what would mark the beginning of a tumultuous relationship between Mayor Cruz and the Springer Police Department. In the letter, Police Chief Martin described an “interrogation” by Cruz regarding his role with the “L.E.P. Fund,” in which Martin tried multiple times unsuccessfully to find any information on by going through “normal channels.” The day before the next Town Council meeting, Martin finally received information on the fund, which he was told had “no money,” despite the need to purchase radios for the Police Department.
According to the letter which was sent to the entire town council and the Mayor, it described Cruz telling Martin that “certain members are out to get [him],” to which Martin responded, telling him he did not wish to be involved with political activity. To that, Cruz drafted a handwritten letter which Martin interpreted as a letter of reprimand, containing “untruths.” Cruz allegedly tried forcing Martin to sign the letter to state his agreement, but he refused due to its inaccurate content.
Martin’s letter describes Cruz further reiterating his powers as Mayor and telling Martin that he would not have his job if Cruz had not recommended him for the position. Later that day, Martin was given a typewritten version of Cruz’ letter, attached with a “highlighted” copy of the powers of the Mayor of Springer, as the powers pertained to the hiring and firing of an employee which was the fourth time the Mayor reiterated these powers. Martin described that “the reiteration on the subject can only be a form of coercion.”
Cruz Spent $37,823.44 Overpaid by Army
Soon afterward, in October 1995, it would be revealed through an Albuquerque Journal article that Cruz had spent $37,823.44, overpaid to him by the U.S. Army after he returned from the Desert Storm. On October 17, 1995, citizens of Springer packed into the Town Council meeting, livid over the Mayor’s seemingly underhanded past, just now coming to light, after they had elected him to a four-year term.
During the meeting, one woman named Mary McCarty asked “How can we trust you with all the town’s monies? You have put doubt in all of our minds.”
A man named Doug Cagny stated “I think it’s your integrity. The faith the community of Springer has put in you, you have shot that right out of the door sir” He continued, “There is no one with any common sense that would put faith in your ability to sit as Mayor of this community.” Cagney asked Cruz one more question, “Can you assure us that nothing else is going to come up that is going to reflect negatively on your character?” Cruz replied: “I hope not,” a telling response.
Years later, on November 11, 2002, Danny Cruz and his wife Danita filed for bankruptcy, listing multiple creditors, including the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Town of Springer, along with multiple other institutions. Although the dollar amounts of each creditor could not be traced in time for the publication of this article, it’s worth wondering how much of the written-off debt included the overpayment from the U.S. Army, and what were the debts owed to the Town of Springer. The bankruptcy was finalized on March 17, 2003, which would be the first of Mr. and Mrs. Cruz’ two confirmed bankruptcies.
Frivolous Firings in the Springer Police Department
Beginning in early 1996, the now out-of-commission Springer News-Bulletin began reporting on and publishing letters to the editor detailing Cruz’ authoritarian governing-style, in the form of his frivolous firings of members of the police force without due cause or overview of the evidence.
NOTE: The Springer News-Bulletin was one of the only newspapers in the area, and published multiple news stories and letters to the editor (from both sides of arguments, including letters from Mayor Danny Cruz’ wife, Danita).
A February 2, 1996 letter by Carl Nelson, a 30-year professional military man and Springer resident, detailed his frustration with an article in the Raton Range regarding statements made by Mayor Cruz about the suspension of Police Officer Rick Martinez. According to the letter, Mayor Cruz had not informed Police Chief Ed Martin of a problem in the department. “If the Mayor had truly been an officer of the Guard, he didn’t understand ‘Chain of Command,’” Nelson wrote. According to the letter, Martinez was not aware of his suspension until he read it in the paper.
One month later, a March 1, 1996 letter by Police Chief Martin, detailed that Mayor Cruz did not allow Officer Martinez to even sign his suspension, then “terminated [him] before the Attorney’s investigation was complete” into the matter.
According to Martin’s letter and exclusive notes obtained by JohnforNM.com, Cruz commanded him to fire another officer based on what he described as “rumors.” After a thorough investigation into the officer’s conduct, no wrongdoing was found. Regardless, Cruz extended that officer’s probation, which ultimately led to the officer’s departure.
After the firing of these policemen, Cruz then went after another member of the force, an Officer Mondragon, who Cruz himself hired. Although Police Chief Martin was on the interview committee, he was never asked for his recommendation.
Martin detailed Mondragon being forced to ride along with one of the two remaining police officers in the town because Cruz felt “he [was] not trained well enough to be on patrol,” even though he had ridden on multiple occasions with then-Officer Martinez and Officer Aguirre, and received training accepted by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.
Allegedly, Cruz’ direction to shadow Mondragon came after a taped traffic stop with a belligerent individual who cursed at the officer and “accused” his wife. Martin concluded from the video that Mondragon “had acted professionally and without malice,” despite the person’s aggravated behavior.
Ending the letter, Martin wrote that running the Police Department had become “increasingly harder as law enforcement officers are in and out of [Springer] like water through a sieve.” He continued, “This evening’s [town council] agenda calls for maybe another termination of a police officer. We, of course, were not told who this officer is. So we all have to wonder what is happening and who, with no chance to prepare a defense.” Martin then wrote:
“Being from Springer does not immunize one from obeying the law.”
According to a letter in the Springer News-Bulletin by Mary McCarthy, during a February 20, 1996 town council meeting, Mayor Cruz said “I don’t care how many people came to the meetings or how many letters… get written in the Springer News Bulletin. I have made up my mind to fire Ed Martin.”
During this time, an election for two seats on the Springer Town Council was to happen on March 5, 1996, a prime opportunity for Mayor Cruz to be rid of two members (Carlos Gutierrez and Bill Jump) who dissented with him on occasion. In a desperate attempt at smearing them, Cruz allegedly sent out a fax the day before the election from his employer’s fax machine (The New Mexico Boys’ School), titled “Voter Awareness History Sheet, Remember When?” with “NEWS BULLETIN – FOR YOUR INFO” scribbled in what appears to be a dark marker at the top of the page. The letter claimed to be from “Concerned Citizens Committee.”
The hastily prepared memo made dozens of frivolous accusations against the incumbent trustees, including allegations that they were complicit in multiple unethical activities, including awarding themselves town contracts for work and wasting over $100,000 in town money for lawsuits against employees who were allegedly fired “without an evaluation period.”
Coincidentally, these factually unsupported allegations lobbed against the trustees seemed to be the same allegations that have actually been proven against Cruz, which will be elaborated on here and in future articles. Mayor Cruz would make similar unsupported accusations against future trustees decades later regarding the “wasting of taxpayer money” through anonymous groups on social media, in town council meetings, and on other channels.
Despite Cruz’ last-ditch attempts at smearing the two trustees, they both were victorious in their reelection efforts.
A couple of weeks later, Mayor Cruz recommended Officer Tony Agguire for Chief of Police, with no motion made by the trustees. Cruz then stated “per the de facto termination clause, to release Chief Ed Martin,” which according to the Springer News-Bulletin, led to the meeting’s adjournment, “amid much confusion among the spectators in attendance.”
At a special town council meeting on March 29, 1996, after Mayor Danny Cruz was denied the motion to go into executive session, the meeting remained open, to discuss Police Chief Martin’s “De Facto Termination.” Trustee Andy Williams made the motion to “declare the action of Mayor Danny Cruz as reflected in his memo dated Tuesday, March 26, 1996 to be void for the reason that it was in conflict with and unauthorized by state law and to confirm the understanding of the Board that the Police Chief is an appointed official and that he shall remain in office unless or until a successor is appointed and qualifies.” The motion was seconded by Trustees Gutierrez and passed by a unanimous vote of the three trustees present.
Later at an April 2, 1996 town council meeting, it was revealed by Trustee Andy Williams that a temporary restraining order had been signed by District Court Judge Peggy Nelson requiring the Mayor to put Police Chief Martin back to work immediately. Cruz stated that he was “not familiar with what a restraining order requires” and once he consulted with counsel, he would proceed as necessary. After multiple attempts to fire Martin, and all of his frivolous complaints to the Attorney General’s office were dismissed, he brought the Town of Springer to court for allegations of violating the Open Meetings Act.
By order of Judge Peggy Nelson on April 25, 1996, Mayor Cruz’ motion to dismiss Police Chief Martin was denied, with the Court ruling Cruz “acted without authority in attempting to terminate the employment of Police Chief Edward Martin on March 26, 1996.” The decision went on to say that during the Springer Trustees’ disapproval of Cruz’s repeated attempts to dismiss Martin at open meetings, he had “no present or continuing authority to suspend the Police Chief Edward Martin on the basis of any reason known to [Cruz].”
A final ruling made on September 3, 1997 further affirmed the previous 1996 ruling, denying Cruz’ motion for summary judgement, saying he had “not shown, as a matter of law, a violation of the Open Meetings Act” at the April 1996 meeting, where the trustees dismissed Cruz’ motion for Martin’s termination.
Despite the blow to Mayor Danny Cruz in court, he looked to other avenues to “punish” Police Chief Ed Martin, including strict monitoring. According to Martin’s wife Eileen, Cruz “refused to let him hire anyone, and Ed had absolutely no force in the matter.” Martin “was not allowed to use the drug police dog around certain areas,” and “could not allow [police officers] to stop vehicles around certain areas,” Mrs. Martin said.
Throughout Cruz’ squabbles against Martin, another election was right around the corner on March 3, 1998. Cruz was running for reelection and was challenged by Trustee H.A. “Andy” Williams, who was giving up his Town Council seat to run. He was one of the names Cruz attempted to smear in his March 1996 fax.
Williams ran on a platform of change for Springer, stating plainly that he ran “not to further any political ambitions, but as a genuinely concerned citizen.” He said he wished to “help usher in an era of progress towards a better quality of life for everyone residing here.”
Williams also brought up the conflicts Cruz had in the past with firing town personnel without approval, stating the facts proven in court that he “fired or attempted to fire city police officers on several occasions.”
Cruz responded saying “the mayor cannot act without the majority vote from the four-member board and can’t fire officers without the unanimous vote from the trustees.” But just months before, Cruz sued to usurp the power to unilaterally fire such personnel under his authority as mayor and was repeatedly proven wrong.
Regardless of the inconsistencies in Cruz’ story and record, the March 3 election carried on, with two new members joining the board, and Danny Cruz barely making it over the finish line, with the final tally showing him 29 votes over Williams.
As reported by multiple Springer citizens, vote counting was conducted on paperless voting machines, which had multiple hiccups. According to former town Trustee Jean Martinez, the first woman elected to the Town Council, “the city had the kind of voting machines with no paper backup, so it was easy to mess with them.” As an observer of the election, Martinez recalls that “when you put your finger on the button [for a selected candidate], it would expand or decrease the scope of the touchpad. I was there when it happened several times. When the name I selected was touched, Danny Cruz got the vote.” Martinez explained that when citizens called Town Clerk Nejla Munden, she wouldn’t change anything.”
In other New Mexico elections from 1998 to 2004, multiple irregularities were found with electronic voting machines. In once instance in Bernalillo County, over 67,000 votes were registered incorrectly, and multiple touch screen “malfunctions” occurred. In 2004, massive irregularities appeared on these machines, such as in Sandoval County, where votes were changed from Republican to Democrat or Green Party. There is no proof to show whether the 1998 Springer municipal election may have been tampered with since all counting was done through these electronic machines.
Danny’s supposed reelection as mayor was the final straw for Ed Martin, leading him to resign as Police Chief along with two other town officials, Scott Drumm, the town animal control officer, and Police Officer Garret Chapman. Martin told the Albuquerque Journal that Cruz was interfering with his department. Cruz responded by accusing Martin of giving out special favors, saying his “friends and supporters didn’t have to worry about violating the law, such as (getting) traffic tickets,” although Cruz didn’t offer any evidence to this claim. Martin denied the claim and Trustee Gutierrez commented that he “was not aware” of such activity.
Martin leaving the department would be the end of an era at the Springer Police Department, and with Andy Williams gone from the Town Council, Cruz was slowly building more power through a council he could manipulate and control, hardly the “team effort city government” he promised years before in his first bid for Mayor.
On March 17, 1998, the Springer Town Council accepted the resignations of the three town officials, recommended the temporary employment of Anthony Baca and Eric Gonzales as police officers, and approved salary increases. Directly before joining the Springer Police Force, Gonzales worked at the Boys’ School, a juvenile correctional facility with Danny Cruz, which could seem like a conflict of interest depending on their relationship.
Shortly afterward, two other officers were hired, Gary Munden and Adam Cordova. Eric Gonzales was then promoted to Police Chief. It just so happens, Gary Munden was married to Nejla Munden, the town clerk-treasurer who oversaw the 1998 municipal elections, which had allegedly been tampered with.
Tragically, on July 18, 1998, just months after the municipal elections, former Trustee Andy Williams passed away, taken after a long, hard fight with cancer.
Shortly after Williams’ passing, for apparent fear of retribution, a concerned citizen anonymously began distributing their concerns about Springer, through letters entitled “WELCOME TO HELL,” in which they brought up various observations of what they saw as waste, fraud, and abuse by Mayor Danny Cruz and members of the Town Council.
This anonymous individual’s concerns (which tended to mention first names only), spanned from complaints about the Town’s sewage system and incompetent overpaid workers at City Hall to Trustee Tony King allegedly proposing a charge of $1.00 per copy of public records, to discourage the public from asking for such documentation.
A “WELCOME TO HELL 2” letter elaborated on what this concerned citizen saw as a “total disregard for the Springer community,” especially with the issue of the Town’s water supply and the Council’s refusal to accept a “fair” offer by the Springer Ditch Company for stored water, due to what was described as a “conflict of interest” between Trustee King and his employer. Apparently, instead of accepting the offer by the Springer Ditch Company, the Town had a “protest” against the town of Angel Fire, ending in Angel Fire having the “first choice” at the water.
According to the anonymous letter, Springer’s budget was sent back by the Department of Finance and Administration, because among other things, the Town’s budget was allegedly reported to be 50% more than it actually had. The writer claimed that it was in part due to the Trustees not having the proper information from Lorie, the deputy clerk and Maria Crosswhite, the clerk-treasurer.
After the “WELCOME TO HELL” letters were disseminated, anonymous response letters began appearing, which may or may not have originated from Danny Cruz. In the crude, grammatically-incoherent responses, instead of addressing key issues, they were mostly full of ad hominem attacks.
The letters branded multiple townspeople as fornicators, racists and false Christians, claimed one citizen’s husband was “gay,” accused former Police Chief Ed Martin’s wife, Eileen, of murder and dealing drugs in Wagon Mound, accused Ed Martin of getting a DWI, mentioned Martin got a “medal” for shooting the “thug” in Wagon Mound, and even went so low as to smear the name of the late Trustee Andy Williams, by saying, “Good thing old Andy Williams isn’t here, he really fell for all your B.S.” At the end of one of the letters, it stated “But now we’ve got a trigger finger, if you know what I mean? Ed and Eileen do,” which seems to be a clear threat of violence.
In a subsequent response to the crude letter by Ed Martin, he decried the vicious attacks on his record of service and defended the people of Springer maligned in the crossfire. Martin explained that he believed Cruz wrote the letter because certain elements it contained, Martin had only divulged to Cruz in a private conversation. Also, many of the grammatical and spelling mistakes in the letter mirrored those in the “Mayor’s Monthly Report.”
Martin went point-by-point, disproving each lie, beginning with the allegation of murder, of which Eileen was not involved. He wrote “I guess [Cruz] thinks he knows more than the State Police Investigators and eyewitnesses…. The man in question was being detained for a gas skip in Wagon Mound the night before. He was wired on coke, so says OMI (Office of the Medical Investigator). He resisted arrest and got off the first shot. He missed, I didn’t.” He continued, saying “I received the Governor’s commendation for pulling a family from a burning vehicle, not for a shooting!” Martin then addressed the accusation that he and Eileen were dealing drugs, and he offered to take a “six-month toxicology test” to prove it while mentioning Eileen’s oldest son, who died from a headshot during a drug bust.
Martin then wrote out a summation of the private conversations he had with Mayor Danny Cruz, including the issue of Martin’s DWI. Martin wrote “When Cruz accused me of lying, I told him that I included the information concerning the DWI on my application for the chief’s position in Springer. I explained how it came about and how it happened at the time. The DWI was in 1981. A DWI stays on your record for 25 years. I was working undercover with some really [violent] people at the time. Others from this group were arrested at the same time. If I had it ‘iced,’ and they found out about it, it might have blown my cover. These people were not to be messed with and I could have been killed if they suspected anything.”
Martin addressed various other points in the anonymous letters, but most notably, was his point about Cruz’ frivolous firings, of which he was brought to court by Trustee Andy Williams and lost in a crippling defeat. Martin wrote, “Funny how Andy Williams was used even though he has passed on. You will remember that Andy fought for truth and sensibility in town government, just like [Trustee] Jean Martinez is now doing…. Andy was a good man and should be remembered with honor.”
Finally, Ed Martin wrote, “I feel that Cruz is an egotistical, micromanaging maniac. Sure makes me wonder what would, or could cause that kind of ego. Why is control of Town Hall or the entire town so important to certain people?”
Former Mayor Danny Cruz has not yet responded to a request for comment, but if he chooses to respond, his quote will be added to this article.
During the tenure of Mayor Danny Cruz, citizens of Springer saw multiple other scandals occur, including the mismanagement of the Springer Waste Water Plant and the sale of cemetery plots to Cruz’ family members, where other citizens had purchased deeds to the same plots, and many other incriminating occurrences, which will be elaborated in a subsequent article.