NM Attorney General Raúl Torrez Announces Charges and Urges Systemic Changes to Better Protect Individuals with Disabilities

Press Release from The Office of New Mexico Attorney General

Charges Highlight Systemic Issues That Need to be Addressed in Order to Protect Individuals with Disabilities

Albuquerque, NM – On Thursday, May 18, 2023, Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced that three individuals – Angelica Chacon, Patricia Hurtado and Luz Scott – have been arrested and charged with the abuse and neglect of a 38-year-old woman with developmental disabilities. 

The victim, Mary Melero, was discovered by Customs and Border Patrol agents in the rear seat of a white passenger van on February 27, 2023 when defendants attempted to take her to Mexico to receive medical treatment. Severely dehydrated and drugged, Melero had numerous open wounds, including chronic bedsores with exposed bone, bruises and lacerations on various parts of her body, and ligature marks consistent with prolonged restraint. Unable to speak when discovered by federal agents, she was transported to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas where she died on April 7, 2023. 

“The abuse and neglect that she endured was horrific and the injuries she sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor,” said Attorney General Torrez. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.” 

Injuries to the victim were extensive and described by the University Medical Center as “chronic wounds.” The filed arrest warrant indicates that the victim was left in a bathtub in her own feces for days at a time and according to medical professionals had infected pressure sores resulting in septic shock. 

“Individuals who have disabilities are at a higher risk of abuse, neglect, and exploitation,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey R. Downey, FBI El Paso Field Office. “It’s heart wrenching to uncover instances where the person with disabilities has suffered physical and emotional abuse from a trusted family member or caregiver. The FBI along with our partners at the New Mexico Office of Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, sought justice for the victim in this case and hopefully will send a message to those who prey on the vulnerable will face criminal prosecution.”

Melero was enrolled in the Developmental Disabilities Waiver (DD Waiver) Program administered by the New Mexico Department of Health. As a participant in that program, DOH contracted with At Home Advocacy (AHA) and three other contractors to provide supplemental care for the victim in this case. Established as an alternative to institutional care, the DD Waiver Program pays providers like AHA to manage in-home care for individuals with disabilities like Melero. 

Angelita Chacon and Patricia Hurtado contracted with AHA to provide care for Melero and were receiving approximately $5,000 a month, under the DD Waiver Program, to care for the victim. 

A preliminary review of the available business records also indicates that AHA received nearly $250,000 to coordinate care and support for Melero in the three years before her death. According to records, the last at-home visit by AHA occurred on January 25, 2023, one month before Melero was intercepted at the port of entry in El Paso. 

“We have a moral obligation to speak up for the most vulnerable members of our society and I urge the Governor and the legislature to take immediate action to overhaul the health and safety protocols at the Department of Health to ensure that this never happens again,” Torrez said. “Private contractors can’t be counted on to police themselves. The Department of Health should have enough specially trained inspectors to conduct regular, in-person wellness checks for every individual with disabilities enrolled in the program,” AG Torrez said. 

Attorney General Torrez urged a number of essential reforms to the administration of the DD Waiver Program including: 

Increased staff and training for in-person inspections.

Mandatory health and safety inspections every 90 days.

Mandatory referrals to law enforcement for any substantiated case of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Raising public awareness for reporting potential abuse and neglect.

New civil and criminal penalties for companies and providers. 

“Being state representatives enables us to speak for the voiceless. It is our mission to provide robust and proactive resources to those who have unique disabilities. We stand by the Attorney General and anyone who strives to join us in creating systemic and effective changes to protect those who need extra support,” said Representative Liz Thomson and Representative Kathleen Cates.

“We were heartbroken to learn of the abuse and neglect of this protected individual. Their care, well-being, and dignity is the very reason our organization exists. While The Arc is not involved in the investigation, we’re grateful to Attorney General Torrez, and his team, for holding the offenders accountable and we look forward to working together to put safeguards in place to ensure this tragedy never happens again,” said Heather Benavidez, CEO of The Arc of New Mexico. 

  • Chacon is charged with:
    • Abuse of a Resident Resulting in Death
      • Alternatively, Neglect of a Resident Resulting in Death
    • False imprisonment
    • Conspiracy to Commit False Imprisonment 
    • Failure to Report. 
    • Maximum prison time: 19 years
  • Patricia Hurtado, Angelita’s live-in girlfriend and now co-defendant, is charged with:
    • Neglect of a Resident Resulting in Death
    • Abuse of a Resident Resulting in Physical Harm or Great Psychological Harm
    • False Imprisonment
    • Conspiracy to Commit False Imprisonment
    • Failure to Report.
    • Maximum prison time: 20.5 years
  • Luz Scott assisted and provided the vehicle that transported the victim through the state. Scott is charged with:
    • False Imprisonment, and Conspiracy to Commit False Imprisonment. 
    • Maximum prison time: 3 years

The Office of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) collaborated with many partners on this case. The Attorney General thanked both the Albuquerque and El Paso Field Offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the New Mexico State Police Department for their investigative efforts. Multiple other federal, state and local agencies provided valuable support during the investigation and apprehension of the suspects, including Customs and Border Patrol, New Mexico Departments of Health (DOH), Human Services (HSD) and Aging and Long-Term Services (ALTSD), Rio Rancho Police Department, El Paso Sheriff’s Office and Texas MFCU.

The New Mexico MFCU receives 75 percent of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award totaling $3,039,464.57 for Federal fiscal year 2023. The remaining 25 percent, totaling $1,013,154.86 for fiscal year 2023, is funded by the State of New Mexico.