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FARMINGTON - New Mexico Title Co. was operating without a state insurance license when it collapsed, an investigator said Tuesday.

"These guys weren't licensed," said state insurance investigator John Gaherty. "They were operating illegally."

Gaherty also said he has identified funds that flowed improperly from New Mexico Title Co. to New Mexico Title Escrow Co., a related company that operated at the same location, 650 W. Main St., Suite C.

"What I suspect is we robbed Peter to pay Paul," he said.

More than 100 customers attended a meeting Tuesday hosted by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission's Division of Insurance to answer questions about the investigations into the two companies.

New Mexico Title Co. closed abruptly Jan. 30, and the escrow company soon followed. The closures, and allegations of money missing, led to a series of widening investigations.

State Superintendent of Insurance John Franchini said the companies closed because they didn't have enough money to cover their accounts.

"They have failed because there wasn't enough money, and the money that was in there, most of it wasn't being used to take care of your escrow problems," Franchini said.

Customers who packed Farmington Civic Center expressed outrage at the slow pace of the investigations, and the lack of answers regarding their escrow funds and title policies.

"I'd like to know why nobody's in jail yet," escrow customer Edward Blinzler of Farmington said to applause.


A stream of customers related one complaint after another.

Blinzler said a homebuyer paid money into an escrow account, but the payment was not properly credited to the account. When Blinzler demanded the payment from New Mexico Title Escrow, a manager at the company said he was using payments from some customers to satisfy balances in other accounts.

"That's exactly what a Ponzi scheme is," Blinzler said.

Jennifer Garcia, a Farmington real estate agent, said she was stuck paying two mortgages when the escrow company collapsed because a property she sold was tied up in New Mexico Title.

Micki Pennington of Kirtland said she was buying a house directly from Bobby Willis, whose company controlled New Mexico Title Escrow and is a named defendant in the investigation. "Is our house safe, or are we stuck?" she said.

Lisa Friend of Aztec wanted answers to what happened to the payments she has been making on a house in Crouch Mesa.

"How long has the money been disappearing?" she asked. "Where is it going?"

Cecilia Barber of Kirtland said she was repeatedly charged interest for late payments that were made on time.

Most of the customers at the meeting related problems with escrow accounts. The PRC Division of Insurance has jurisdiction over the title investigation, but the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department's Financial Institutions Division is overseeing the investigation of the escrow entity.

No one from the FID attended Tuesday's meeting, and the agency has repeatedly declined to comment on its investigation. That investigation is unfolding in a case in District Court in Santa Fe.

Documents in the case allege Carrie Willis, a co-owner of New Mexico Title Escrow, held $78,630 in cash in a metal file drawer at the business, rather than in a bank account as required by state regulations. They also include a copy of a $132,880 check from New Mexico Title Co.

for an executive suite at the Denver Broncos' football stadium.

A Santa Fe judge on April 9 appointed a receiver for New Mexico Title Escrow. The receiver, Albuquerque attorney Darryl Millet, is leading a forensic audit of the business.

New Mexico Title Escrow Co. is believed to have been controlled by Golden Rule LLC, an entity associated with Bobby Willis.

New Mexico Title Co., operated by J.J. Bond Investments, was owned at the time of its closure by Denver-area businessman Chad Cox, who has said he purchased it from Willis in 2011.

Farmington police are tracking the investigation, as is the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division, which is looking into mobile home titles issued by New Mexico Title Co., Gaherty said.

Investigators believe some victims have yet to come forward.

"We're trying to identify more victims," Gaherty said. "We're sure there's more victims out there than we've identified."

PRC Commissioner Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who represents the Farmington area, said she hoped the meeting provided valuable information to title and escrow customers.

"A lot of them were confused, and hopefully we helped them in a direction where they understand how the process works," she said.

Craig Dunbar, chief of the state Title Insurance Bureau, pleaded for patience.

Dunbar said the receiver "has got to do a thorough audit. You can imagine all the accounts from just the people sitting here, it's going to take some time to get through all of that."

Dunbar added, "We're trying to move this along. We go at a snail's pace because of the laws and regulations we have to deal with. We're moving as fast as we can."