San Luis Councilmember Hit With Indictment In 2020 Ballot Harvesting Scheme

San Luis Councilmember Gloria Lopez Torres

Two San Luis woman, including a sitting city council member, have been indicted on felony charges related to a ballot harvesting scheme in which several voters’ 2020 Primary Election ballots were collected and placed in a ballot box in violation of Arizona law.

According to court documents, longtime city councilwoman Gloria Lopez Torres was indicted by a state grand jury on Oct. 3, as was Nadia Guadalupe Lizarraga-Mayorquin. They are each charged with two Class 6 felonies, one for conspiracy and one for ballot abuse.

A state law passed in 2016 makes it a felony to engage in ballot harvesting, which is part of the ballot abuse statute. The only persons who can lawfully possess a voter’s ballot are a family member, household member, or caregiver of the voter.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office announced the indictments Wednesday, noting that Torres is alleged to have collected seven ballots from Lizarraga-Mayorquin, who is also known as Nadia Buchanan. For her part, Lizarraga-Mayorquin collected at least one ballot from a third party, the AGO stated.

Both indictments allege the unlawful conduct leading to the charges started on or about July 12, 2020 and ran through election day, Aug. 4, 2020. That is the day the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office obtained video of ballot harvesting activities outside a San Luis polling station.

Former San Luis mayor Guillermina Fuentes and a co-defendant, Alma Yadira Juarez, were sentenced last week in Yuma County Superior Court for their role in the same ballot harvesting scheme during the 2020 election.

Fuentes, who like Torres was serving on the Gadsden Elementary School Board when indicted, is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence after she pleaded guilty to one count of ballot abuse. She must serve two years of supervised probation after her release from jail.

Juarez, who cooperated throughout the investigation, was offered a plea deal to a Class 1 misdemeanor, and received a probation-only sentence.

News of the indictment of Torres, who serves as membership coordinator for San Luis-based Comite de Bien Estar Inc., has been expected for several weeks. Back in May, Torres’ cell phone was seized as part of a court-approved search warrant that also allowed for Torres’ home to be searched.

At the time, Torres’ boss at Comite de Bien Estar publicly criticized Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his handling of the investigation. That boss, Marco “Tony” Reyes, is also the chairman of Yuma County’s board of supervisors.

Lizarraga-Mayorquin was named in the same search warrant, which was issued by a judge based on an affidavit from AGO Special Agent Roger Geisler.

But Torres had been a focus of Geisler and other investigators long before then. One investigatory report obtained by Arizona Daily Independent shows two AGO special agents traveled to San Luis in January 2021 to obtain Torres’ fingerprints under a court-approved search warrant.

Fingerprints play a big role in the ballot harvesting investigation, with the FBI and the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab being asked to lift prints from dozens of ballots as well as the affidavit envelopes those ballots were in when received by the Yuma County Recorder’s Office.

Other AGO records reveal a photo of Torres was shown to at least one witness who told agents she left two 2020 Primary Election ballots outside her door for someone to pick up and deliver to a polling place.

“(Witness) confirmed receiving a call about leaving their ballots for someone to collect and deliver for them,” Special Agent Roger Geisler noted in a report of a interview on Feb. 10, 2021. Geisler further noted that the witness observed the unnamed woman come to the door and collect the ballots.

Public records show Torres has a long history of holding powerful positions in San Luis dating back more than 20 years. She was first elected to the San Luis city council in 2000, and was one of the local candidates for city council who was promoted by Fuentes at a table outside a San Luis polling place during the August 2020 primary.

In early 2021, Torres and another council member were the target of a recall effort that never made it to the ballot due to a lack of sufficient signatures. A similar recall effort against Torres, Fuentes, and other member for the Gadsden Elementary School District board also failed to make it to the ballot last year.

During the AGO’s investigation, Fuentes made the argument that San Luis voters needed help in casting their ballot, because they are “just like lazy.” Fuentes also made several comments in support of Torres’ candidacy.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson filed a sentencing memorandum in Fuentes’ case, pushing for Judge Bruce Nelson to give Fuentes a sentence that was more than just probation.

Lawson said Fuentes’ actions reeked of “machine politics” and “political bosses” and called on Nelson to “send a strong message to any elected official or political professional who actively disobeys the laws on the handling of ballots, to avoid encouraging others from engaging in a refined version of this scheme which might avoid detection at future elections.”

It is an argument Lawson is expected to put forth again in Torres’ case.