NEW MEXICO PRC COMMISSIONER ARRESTED FOR MARIJUANA
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A member of the powerful state Public Regulation Commission who advocated zero tolerance on drugs and alcohol in the PRC workplace has been arrested on drug charges.
E. Shirley Baca, 53, of Las Cruces, was taken into custody shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday at Albuquerque's international airport.
A container with a glass pipe and green, leafy substance that tested positive as marijuana was found in Baca's suitcase, according to a Metropolitan Court criminal complaint.
The suitcase was checked in with the airline to be loaded onto the airplane, said John Roberts, deputy chief of Albuquerque Aviation Police.
An alarm used to detect explosives alerted federal security screeners to the bag.
A search revealed less than an ounce of marijuana, Roberts said.
Baca, who had already passed through security, was paged over the intercom system, located at a Delta Airlines gate and arrested.
When questioned, Baca allegedly told the officer that she smoked marijuana occasionally, according to the complaint.
"(I'm) not going to admit that that is mine," Baca told the officer when shown the container of marijuana, the complaint states.
Baca was booked into the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center on misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. She posted $1,000 bond by early afternoon.
An arraignment is scheduled Dec. 27, a court spokeswoman said.
PRC Commissioner David King said he was stunned when told by the Associated Press that Baca had been arrested.
"I know that she was one of the advocates to have zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol" at the PRC, King said. She advocated immediate dismissal of any PRC employee when it comes to drugs or alcohol, he said.
"We have a lot of sensitive positions here. We just can't tolerate that (drugs and alcohol). I think that, as commissioners, we have to set a strong example," King said.
Baca was scheduled to take a flight Wednesday to New York City to participate in an investment conference, King said.
A message left seeking comment at Baca's Santa Fe office was not immediately returned. Baca's secretary, Jesse Ramirez, was surprised to learn of Baca's arrest but said she could not comment further.
Baca, a Democrat, was elected in 2002 for a four-year term to the five-member PRC, which oversees electricity and gas rates, insurance, pipelines, telecommunications, fire districts and transportation in New Mexico.
Gov. Bill Richardson said nobody is above the law.
"This is a serious offense, which will carry serious consequences and she will have to deal with that," Richardson said.
Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy said the news came as a big surprise.
"I'm going to refrain from passing any judgment because I really don't know all the details," Lovejoy said.
Patrick Baca, commission chief of staff, declined comment.
Baca's arrest is the latest in a series of embarrassing busts for high-profile officials in New Mexico.
John Brennan, former chief state district judge in Bernalillo County, was arrested in May after trying to duck a checkpoint for drunken drivers. He pleaded guilty to aggravated driving while intoxicated and cocaine possession and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation.
Rep. Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, in April pleaded guilty to drunken driving after he was stopped by Albuquerque police.
E. Shirley Baca was a state representative from 1993 to 1996. She also made unsuccessful bids against the late Joe Skeen for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 1996 and 1998.