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WED: Suspect in New Mexico Muslim killings detained pending trial, + More

Muhammad Syed attends his hearing Wednesday, Aug.17, 2022. A judge ruled that he will remain behind bars pending trial. He's charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men in Albuquerque and suspected in the killing of two others.
Megan Kamerick
Muhammad Syed attends his hearing Wednesday, Aug.17, 2022. A judge ruled that he will remain behind bars pending trial. He's charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men in Albuquerque and suspected in the killing of two others.

Suspect in New Mexico Muslim killings detained pending trial - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An Afghan refugee charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men and suspected in the killing of two others was ordered held without bond pending trial as prosecutors argued Wednesday that he was a danger to his own family and the greater community.

Prosecutors during a detention hearing pointed to Muhammad Syed's previous record, which included allegations of domestic violence and a case in which he refused to stop for law enforcement after running a red light. Charges in those cases were eventually dropped, but they argued that Syed's history showed a pattern of violence.

"The defendant is really incapable of following any sort of lawful orders or incapable of following the law, period," said John Duran, an assistant district attorney. "The defendant has really no regard for any law. It seems apparent he has further no regard for any human life."

Syed, 51, has denied any involvement in the killings that shook New Mexico's Muslim community and his defense attorneys argued that he had no criminal record since the previous cases were not pursued. They also tried to argue that he was not a flight risk and had lived at the same address for two years.

Judge Joseph Montano denied a bid by Syed's attorneys to have the defendant placed on house arrest, finding that no conditions of release would prevent him from leaving his home or from committing a crime.

The judge also pointed to a criminal complaint that accused Syed of lying in wait for the victims and the ballistic evidence amassed by investigators so far.

"The weight of the evidence here is high," Montano said.

Syed was arrested Aug. 8 more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from his Albuquerque home. He told authorities he was on his way to Texas, citing the ambush-style killings as his concern.

Police said they received more than 200 tips and one from the Muslim community led them to the Syed family. Syed knew the victims, authorities have said.

Syed is charged with murder in the deaths of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Hussein, 41, was slain on the night of July 26 after parking his car in the usual spot near his home. Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner who had worked on the campaign of a New Mexico congresswoman, was gunned down on Aug. 1 while taking his evening walk.

Syed is the primary suspect — but hasn't been charged — in the death of Naeem Hussain, 25, who was shot Aug. 5 in the parking lot of a refugee resettlement agency in southeast Albuquerque, and the slaying of Muhammad Zahir Ahmadi, a 62-year-old Afghan immigrant who was fatally shot in the head last November behind the market he owned in the city.

According to the criminal complaint filed by Albuquerque police, investigators determined that bullet casings found in Muhammad Syed's vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at the crime scenes were linked to guns found at Syed's home and in his vehicle.

Federal authorities in court filings have pointed to cell phone records and accused one of Syed's sons of possibly helping his father track Naeem Hussain before he was killed. Shaheen Syed's attorney said those accusations are thin and dismissed prosecutors claims that the younger Syed provided a false address when purchasing a gun from a local shop in 2021.

Ronchetti campaign receives donation from fake NM elector - Ryan Lowery, Source New Mexico 

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti received a cash donation from a man implicated in a scheme to falsely award the state’s electoral votes to Donald Trump, a finance report filed last month shows.

Lupe L. Garcia and four others signed phony legal documents and submitted them to the National Archives in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. At the end of June, Garcia donated $2,000 to Ronchetti’s campaign, and the campaign hasn’t responded to questions about the donation.

Kathleen Sabo, the executive director of the nonpartisan New Mexico Ethics Watch, said she’s concerned with the lack of transparency, because without the campaign addressing the donation, voters don’t know whether Ronchetti supports the efforts of the fake electors or not.

“The hallmark of running anything ethical, whether its government or a good campaign, is transparency and honesty,” Sabo said. “We always encourage public servants to adopt the highest standard of ethics in order to increase the public’s trust.”

Whether or not accepting the donation is ethical is more difficult to define, Sabo said, largely because the fake elector scheme is unprecedented in the history of American elections. This makes it difficult to draw comparisons to other situations.

A close analogy would be a hypothetical candidate running for office in a state where abortion is now illegal, Sabo said. If the candidate accepted a donation from a person or group that advocates for reproductive rights, the candidate would likely declare publicly that the donation indicated they are in favor of restoring a person’s right to choose in that state, and that the issue was part of their political platform.

Since Ronchetti has not said if he’s keeping Garcia’s donation or not, voters don’t know whether he agrees or disagrees with what Garcia and the other fake electors attempted to do.

“If you accept that transparency is a major tenant of an ethical undertaking of any kind, the ethical thing to do would be to reveal whether there was any connection to accepting this donation to supporting the fake electors’ attempt, or if that would be something he would support in the future,” Sabo said.

Jessica Feezell, an associate professor with the University of New Mexico’s political science department, said that for her, the donation raises some ethical issues, but moreover, she believes it signals that Garcia sees Ronchetti as being aligned with his political views.

“Ronchetti can accept money from whomever he wants to, and use it however he wants to,” she said. “Probably the more important thing to recognize is that a fake elector sees Mark Ronchetti as the candidate for them.”


Ronchetti did not respond to multiple requests for comment, starting Monday, Aug. 8, and did not address a question about whether Garcia’s donation was accepted. We held the story to give the campaign ample time to respond. Garcia, a 76-year-old businessman from Española, could not be reached for comment. We will update this story if we hear back from either party.


The phony paperwork signed by Garcia falsely allocated New Mexico’s electoral votes from the 2020 election to Trump. President Joe Biden won the state by 10 percentage points.

New Mexico was one of seven states that filed fake elector documents. The goal of the scheme, which involved 84 Republicans, was to have alternate slates of electors in place so that Congress could accept those and reject the official slates.

Republicans behind the scheme saw it as a contingency, and New Mexico’s fake elector documents differ slightly from most of the others in that wording alluding to a contingency was expressly written into the document.

“[I]t might later be determined that we are the duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of New Mexico…,” the document stated.

Pennsylvania is the only other state to include this sort of contingency wording. Documents filed by fake electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin didn’t hedge.

Electors in each state were required to sign documents certifying their state’s election results by Dec. 14. When that date arrived, there was still no real evidence disputing the 2020 election results, making any contingency unnecessary.

The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack subpoenaed at least 14 of the counterfeit electors as part of the investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election results.

The committee also agreed to share 20 transcripts regarding the false electors scheme with the Department of Justice.

Garcia is not among those subpoenaed, but two signers of the fake New Mexico document were: Jewll Powdrell and Deborah W. Maestas. Powdrell is listed as the chairperson for the slate of alternative electors, and Maestas is listed as the secretary.

Sabo with New Mexico Ethics Watch said that while the ethicality of the donation to Ronchetti is difficult to delineate, the fact the fake elector scheme has gained congressional attention — and because there could be a criminal investigation by the DOJ — Ronchetti’s acceptance of Garcia’s money ultimately raises concerns.

“To me, the lack of transparency about what the acceptance of a contribution means is a clear ethical issue,” she said. “It’s that lack of transparency that at least borders on the unethical.”

Governor: Film company relocating headquarters to Las Cruces - Associated Press

California-based 828 Productions will relocate its headquarters to Las Cruces, joining Netflix and NBCUniversal as film partners with the state, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that 828 Productions plans to invest $75 million to build a 300,000-square-foot studio and 20-acre back lot over the next six years, creating at least 100 high-paying jobs in Las Cruces.

Lujan Grisham said 828 Productions' move will create at least 100 new jobs in southern New Mexico and spend $350 million on productions over the next decade.

"From Las Cruces to Farmington, we've made New Mexico the place to be for film & TV!," the governor tweeted.

828 Productions has finalized negotiations on an additional 35 acres of land in downtown Las Cruces with existing structures that will provide soundstage and set construction space, according to the New Mexican.

The newspaper also said the film company intends to shoot its first production in the new Las Cruces Studio before the end of this year.

Oil spill stopped from reaching tributary on Navajo Nation - Associated Press

An oil spill has been stopped from reaching a tributary to the San Juan River and clean-up work continues at Standing Redrock Creek, Navajo Nation officials said Wednesday.

They said the Capitol Operating Group had a release from a corroded pipeline between the salt water tank and an injection well located in Red Valley on Aug. 7. and up to 80 barrels of brine water was released.

Tribal officials said the brine water contained oil, brine, and saltwater and the release traveled over three miles through an unnamed drainage to the Standing Redrock Creek.

"We continue to monitor the situation together and we will continue to hold the responsible party, the Capital Group, accountable and ensure that they provide the highest level of remediation as a result of the spill that occurred," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement.

Tribal officials said the remediation is expected to continue into next week and includes replacing the pipeline, treating the release site and unnamed drainage and collecting the contaminated soil in the creek bed.

They said berms and additional absorbent pads have been placed throughout the creek to collect any runoff from monsoon rains.

Judge: Suit by group critical of immigration can proceed - By Philip Marcelo Associated Press

A group calling for sharply limiting immigration has scored a legal victory in its federal lawsuit arguing the Biden administration violated environmental law when it halted construction of the U.S. southern border wall and sought to undo other immigration policies by former President Donald Trump.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled last week that a lawsuit brought by the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform against three federal agencies can proceed, at least in part.

Judge Trevor McFadden said the federal district court has jurisdiction to hear the case, though he dismissed two of the Boston-area group's 11 claims.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for less immigration that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Massachusetts coalition, cheered the decision.

"Resolving this question is long overdue," Julie Axelrod, the center's director of litigation, said in a statement Wednesday. "The massive impacts of immigration to the U.S, including degradation to the southern borderlands, our infrastructure, urban sprawl, pollution, global carbon emissions, and all other environmental considerations have become impossible to sweep under the rug any longer."

The lawsuit argues the Biden administration violated federal environmental law when it halted construction of the wall, ended Trump's controversial "Remain in Mexico" asylum process, expanded refugee programs for Afghans, Central Americans and other populations, and eased certain policies for border patrol and immigration enforcement agents, among other measures.

The Massachusetts coalition, which, according to its website, seeks to "sharply reduce immigration" for environmental reasons, says the U.S. Department of State, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security should have conducted environmental impact analysis before implementing the immigration changes, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"If NEPA should apply to any government policy, it should be to federal policies that induce population growth," the organization states in its complaint. "When the federal government makes the choice to create population growth through immigration, it makes a decision yielding significant and foreseeable environmental consequences."

Six people from Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Arizona who say they've dealt with the environmental consequences of federal immigration policy are also named as plaintiffs.

Steven Chance Smith, an Arizona cattle rancher, says migrants crossing the southern border leave trash, set fires and negatively impact his land in other ways. He says his family also worries about the presence of drug cartel members and human smugglers.

"Life on the border during mass migrations is very stressful," the lawsuit states. "The land is being overrun and constantly degraded."

Judge McFadden dismissed counts alleging the Homeland Security Department's instruction manual violates environmental law and that the Biden administration should have prepared a "programmatic" environmental analysis of its immigration-related actions. The next hearing is set for Sept. 29.

Spokespeople for the three agencies named in the suit didn't respond Wednesday to emails seeking comment.

Biden halted construction on border walls upon taking office in 2021, but has allowed work in very limited circumstances.

Earlier this month, his administration officially ended the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy that required asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court after the Supreme Court ruled in June it could do so.

DNA profiles lead to IDs of 2 men who died in Tucson in 2019 - Associated Press

Two unidentified men who died in Tucson in 2019 have been identified through DNA profiles, authorities said Wednesday.

Tucson police said the non-profit DNA Doe Project identified the men by building family trees from their genetic matches, with the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner confirming the IDs using corroborating data.

Police said one man was found dead in a Tucson homeless encampment without any identification in February 2019.

Genetic genealogy built from a blood sample and a DNA profile recently determined the man was 61-year-old Tommy Gayle Pool Jr. from Virginia, police said.

The other man died in July 2019 after being found unresponsive in the parking lot of a Tucson shopping center without any identification.

Police said he was recently identified as 64-year-old James "Mark" Chaparro, whose was raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Authorities said Chaparro's family believed he was living in China so they never filed a missing person report.

The California-based DNA Doe Project said it partners with law enforcement to solve cases of unidentified persons and many cases are fully funded by donors.

Cowboys For Trump leader fighting to keep job in New Mexico - Associated Press

Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin is fighting to keep his seat as a New Mexico county commissioner as he faces possible removal and disqualification from public office for his participation in last year's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin was previously convicted of a misdemeanor for entering Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.

Three residents of Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties filed a lawsuit seeking to remove Griffin from being commissioner of Otero County's 2nd district for the rest of his term.

Griffin, a 47-year-old Republican, is representing himself in the two-day bench trial that began Monday.

"This lawsuit is about removing a duly elected county commissioner from office through the civil court," Griffin said in court. "By allowing this case to move forward, you're going to set a very dangerous precedent."

On the witness stand Monday, Griffin said he went to Washington, D.C.' to peacefully protest and pray with other Trump supporters.

"I had no intention of breaking the law on that day," he said.

The three plaintiffs in the case argued in a 259-page petition that Griffin should be disqualified from holding public office on the basis of a clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment holds that anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution be barred from office for engaging in insurrection or rebellion or giving aid or comfort to the nation's enemies.

Western states hit with more cuts to Colorado River water - By Sam Metz, Suman Naishadham And Kathleen Ronayne Associated Press

For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West endures more drought, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Though the cuts will not result in any immediate new restrictions — like banning lawn watering or car washing — they signal that unpopular decisions about how to reduce consumption are on the horizon, including whether to prioritize growing cities or agricultural areas. Mexico will also face cuts.

But those reductions represent just a fraction of the potential pain to come for the 40 million Americans in seven states that rely on the river. Because the states failed to meet a federal deadline to figure out how to cut their water use by at least 15%, they could see even deeper cuts that the government has said are needed to prevent reservoirs from falling so low they cannot be pumped.

"The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system," Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton said.

Together, the missed deadline and the latest cuts put officials responsible for providing water to cities and farms under renewed pressure to plan for a hotter, drier future and a growing population.

Touton has said a 15% to 30% reduction is necessary to ensure that water deliveries and hydroelectric power production are not disrupted. She was noncommittal on Tuesday about whether she planned to impose those cuts unilaterally if the states cannot reach agreement.

She repeatedly declined to say how much time the states have to reach the deal she requested in June.

The inaction has stirred concerns throughout the region about the bureau's willingness to act as states stubbornly cling to their water rights while acknowledging that a crisis looms.

"They have called the bureau's bluff time and again," Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said of the Colorado River basin states. "Nothing has changed with today's news — except for the fact that the Colorado River system keeps crashing."

Stephen Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community in central Arizona, said the tribe was "shocked and disappointed" by the lack of progress. The tribe, which is entitled to nearly one-fourth of Arizona's Colorado River deliveries, no longer plans to save its unused water in Lake Mead, as it has in recent years, and instead plans to store it underground.

For years, cities and farms have diverted more water from the river than flows through it, depleting its reservoirs and raising questions about how it will be divided as water becomes more scarce.

After more than two decades of drought, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico were hit with mandatory cuts for the first time last year. Some of the region's farmers have been paid to leave their fields fallow. Residents of growing cities have been subjected to conservation measures such as limits on grass lawns.

But those efforts thus far haven't been enough. The water level at Lake Mead, the nation's largest man-made reservoir, has plummeted so low that it's currently less than a quarter full and inching dangerously close to a point where not enough water would flow to produce hydroelectric power at the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border.

Officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been reluctant to propose more draconian water-rationing measures or limits on development.

The trade-offs are emerging most prominently in Arizona, which is among the nation's fastest-growing states and has lower-priority water rights than water users to the west, in California.

Under Tuesday's reductions, Arizona will lose an additional 80,000 acre-feet of water — 21% less than its total share but only 3% less than what it's receiving this year.

An acre-foot is equivalent to an acre of land covered by 12 inches of water. An average household uses one-half to one acre-foot of water a year.

After putting last year's burden on the agricultural industry, state officials said this year's cuts would extend to tribes and growing cities that rely on the Colorado, including Scottsdale.

Rather than ration water, mandate conservation or limit development, the cities will likely shift reliance to other sources. Phoenix, for example, will rely more heavily on the in-state Salt and Verde rivers, while directing less of its supply to recharge its groundwater aquifers.

Arizona officials blasted neighboring states that haven't proposed cuts even as Arizona implements its own.

Arizona and Nevada came up with a plan for cuts that would have been close to proportional to water use, but both California and the Bureau of Reclamation rejected that deal, state officials said.

"We need California to participate; we can't do this alone with just Arizona and Nevada," said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The effect of the cuts on farmers remains unclear, but many fear more cuts will further inflame tensions between cities and agriculture, which uses more than 70% of the basin's water.

Paco Ollerton, a Phoenix-area cotton farmer, worries that deeper cuts could jeopardize his water next year. Arizona farmers already lost much of their Colorado River water during prior cuts, but they were compensated with water through deals with cities like Phoenix and Tucson.

This year, Ollerton grew only half of what he had grown previously. The cuts announced Tuesday could further squeeze those cities, raising questions about whether they will share with farmers next year.

"It kind of changes my thinking about how much longer I'm going to continue to farm," Ollerton said.

Nevada also will lose water — about 8% of its supply — but most residents will not feel the effects because the state recycles the majority of its water used indoors and doesn't use its full allocation. Last year, the state lost 7%.

Scorching temperatures and less melting snow in the spring have reduced the amount of water flowing from the Rocky Mountains, where the river originates before it snakes 1,450 miles southwest and into the Gulf of California.

Amid the changing climate, extraordinary steps are already being taken to keep water in Lake Powell, the other large Colorado River reservoir, which straddles the Arizona-Utah border.

After the lake fell low enough to threaten hydroelectric power production, federal officials said they would hold back some water to ensure the dam could still produce energy. That water would normally flow to Lake Mead.

Mexico will lose 7% of the water it receives each year from the river. Last year, it lost about 5%. The water is a lifeline for northern desert cities, including Tijuana, and for a large farming industry in the Mexicali Valley, just south of the border from California's Imperial Valley.

Historically, Mexico has been sidelined in discussions over how to share the river, but in recent years, efforts by countries have been important to keeping more water in the system, experts say.

"People have come to realize this is a really important relationship to maintain," said Jennifer Pitt, who directs the Colorado River program at the Audubon Society.

Ex-Vegas teacher, pastor gets prison time in child sex case - Associated Press

A former Las Vegas elementary school teacher and church pastor has been sentenced to six to 15 years in prison and lifetime supervision as a sex offender after pleading guilty to a child sex crime.

Reynaldo Cruz Crespin, 59, apologized Monday before a Clark County District Court judge who rejected his lawyer's request for probation.

"If there was a case that warranted punishment, I believe this is that case," Judge Kathleen Delaney said, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Crespin's attorney, Kevin Speed, declined Tuesday to comment.

Crespin was arrested in February in Albuquerque, New Mexico, more than a week after he was named in a warrant in Las Vegas on multiple charges including sexual assault involving children.

All but one lesser charge were dismissed when Crespin avoided trial and pleaded guilty in May to attempted lewdness with a child under 14.

KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reported that Crespin taught second grade from 2016 until this year and was a pastor at New Horizon Christian Church in northeast Las Vegas. The television station said none of the charges related to his students.

The Review-Journal reported that Crespin and his wife founded the church in 2002. His wife sued in February to take custody of their children.

2 brothers charged with conspiracy in deadly smuggling crash - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Two brothers from Mexico are facing federal charges after fleeing from U.S. authorities in late July and crashing their vehicle, killing two and injuring 10 others just miles from the international border.

Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that Jorge Garcia-Rascon, 21 and Julio Garcia-Rascon, 19, have been charged with conspiracy to smuggle immigrants resulting in death. They will remain in custody pending trial.

The crash happened after Border Patrol agents attempted a traffic stop. The brothers sped away despite the agents ceasing their pursuit in hopes of avoiding any kind of chase that might endanger the occupants or other vehicles.

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the brothers had been smuggled themselves. The elder brother, speaking in Spanish, told authorities that he was transporting other migrants to pay off his debt for being brought to the United States.

Jorge Garcia-Rason stated that he and his brother were staying at a motel in El Paso, Texas, and were transporting migrants for an unnamed smuggling organization. He said he had transported six migrants to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the week before the crash.

Julio Garcia-Rascon told authorities that he had once transported migrants to from El Paso to Albuquerque and that he was paid $500 per person. According to court documents, he stated that his employer told him not to stop if law enforcement attempted to pull him over.

A public defender appointed to represent the brothers did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the case.

The brothers' SUV caught the attention of authorities who were patrolling near Santa Teresa, New Mexico. The SUV appeared to be weighed down after it passed by. The Border Patrol agents turned off their emergency lights and sirens after their attempt to stop the vehicle failed.

The driver continued speeding away and eventually lost control, flipping and rolling the vehicle.

Authorities said the brothers tried to run from the crash but were taken into custody.

In the weeks before the crash. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that authorities working in the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico's stretch of the international border, had disrupted 20 vehicular human smuggling schemes that involved nearly 130 smuggled migrants.

The agency also reported busting three stash houses in late July and finding more than 100 migrants who were in the country illegally. Those migrants were from Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Mexico and Honduras.

The Border Patrol has reported that during the past fiscal year, agents working in New Mexico and West Texas located more than 175 stash houses at which 1,975 migrants were found.

Statistics released by the federal government Monday show migrants were stopped fewer times at the U.S. border with Mexico in July than in June but that flows were still unusually high.

Del Rio, Texas, was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings among the Border Patrol's nine sectors on the Mexico border, with agents there stopping migrants 49,563 times in July. Texas' Rio Grande Valley, which had long been the busiest, was second with 35,180 stops.