By: Cesar Rodriguez
Columbus, N.M., Police Chief Angelo Vega, shown here, along with the mayor and a town trustee were arrested by federal agents on drug and weapons charges. The tiny border community is known for its attack by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa nearly a century ago.
The City of Columbus, N.M. is in bad shape.
It's $600,000 in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy.
The financial problems come on the heels of the arrest of the town's mayor, a trustee and the police chief -- all accused on drug and weapons charges in March.
The newly-appointed mayor, Nicole Lawson, told ABC-7 Columbus only has $62,000 in the bank. The police department alone costs the village about $300,000 per year.
Lawson said she had no choice but to abolish the police department and fire city employees.
"I think the individuals are punished for someone's mistakes. This is their livelihood," said Lawson. "We're not saying they did something wrong. We don't have money to pay them."
Lawson said she had to make tough decisions fast in order to save the entire village.
"We were told if we didn't make changes in a month we would be bankrupt and lose our incorporation as municipality."
The new administration has also abolished Columbus' Code Enforcement and Animal Control departments, and eliminated a dozen city jobs.
Lawson said the village is suffering from the mistakes of the previous administration.
"It's obvious the way it was done didn't work. The CPAs are going to help us establish who dropped the ball, when (and) who was responsible."
Rosie Zamora, one of the three officers laid off, blamed corruption for the problems.
"Chief (Angelo) Vega was using the money illegally. Now it's going to take a miracle for government to trust Columbus," she said.
"It's going to take a lot to mend those feelings," Mayor Lawson agreed.
Vega is in jail without bond, indicted in a weapons smuggling scheme. Also indicted were former Columbus mayor Eddie Espinoza and former village trustee Blas Gutierrez.
All have pleaded not guilty.
Lawson said for now, the village will depend on the Luna County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement, as there is already a full-time deputy and three reserves who live in Columbus.