Pat and Sue Mullane Respond to Santa Fe New Mexican Article

A response to the recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican on the use of Dixon Apple Orchard in Aubrey Dunn’s TV commercials. This is written by Patrick and Sue Mullane, Becky Mullane’s in-laws, who experienced the devastation of the orchard through their son and daughter-in-law’s eyes. Note that the Santa Fe New Mexican reporter, who quoted current Land Commissioner Ray Powell, did not contact either Aubrey Dunn or Becky Mullane for the story.

We cannot write about what happened to a beloved New Mexico icon without feeling pain and frustration. The Dixon Apple Orchard was a very special place for all of New Mexico for over 60 years.

The last 3 years has been a nightmare for the Mullane Family. First, there was the fire in June of 2011. In August of 2011, flooding of biblical proportions destroyed the rest of the farm and orchard. After that came politics at its worst from Ray Powell and the State Land Office. Below we have tried to outline what has occurred the last 3 years.

For several months after the fire, Jim and Becky Mullane rented a house in Cochiti Lake while they evaluated what was left of the orchard. Their hearts were still buried in the orchard and land, and they wanted to try and fix it. During this timeframe, they also tried to get commitments from the State Land Office to help stabilize the creek area so they could save the remaining trees, well house, and the historic cabin from further damage. The State Land Office refused their request.

Watch & Learn More: Dixon’s Apple Orchard

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What should be mentioned here is that the State Land Office received several million dollars from the State Insurance for the losses incurred to the orchard from the fire and flood. It was our understanding that this insurance money was supposed to be used to stabilize the creek and restore the orchard. It should be noted that the State did not build any of the buildings on the property nor did the State have anything to do with the establishment and running of the orchard.

When the State of New Mexico and UNM did their land swap (Mesa del Sol) a few years before, all of the assets on the property became the property of the State Land Office. The Dixon/Mullane family had always maintained the buildings at the ranch and some had even been built by Fred Dixon; the trees were purchased, planted, and maintained by them as well as were all pipelines for irrigation, wells, roads, and walls. The State Land Office didn’t have any financial involvement in the orchard other than to collect the funds for the lease and a percentage of each year’s profits on the apple crop. They inherited everything and then took all of the insurance money for all the losses.

When Jim and Becky Mullane realized the State Land Office did not want to put any money into the orchard, they decided to try and sell the lease to Cochiti Pueblo. The Pueblo had long expressed an interest in the property. In December of 2011, after a few months of negotiations, Cochiti Pueblo told the Mullane family they did not have the funds needed to buy the lease.

Jim and Becky Mullane then asked the Santa Domingo and San Felipe Pueblos to see if they were interested. San Felipe Pueblo was interested and put down 10
percent earnest money. An agreement was drafted, signed, and submitted to the State Land Office. A meeting was held with Ray Powell and his legal staff. Mr. Powell indicated that he would not approve the transfer because San Felipe Pueblo did not have experience operating an orchard. Ray Powell refused to even take any additional phone calls or meet with the Mullanes. And, “WHY” were people from the Cochiti Pueblo present at the meeting. WHY?

For the record, many members of the San Felipe Pueblo had worked at the orchard in various capacities over the years. They may not have been making decisions, but they knew orchard work and what to do.

The Mullanes were then forced to hire an attorney to overturn Ray Powell’s decision. Legal requirements demanded a hearing before a judge. The first hearing was
before a retired district judge who listened to arguments from both sides. In his written decision, the judge blasted the State Land Office and Ray Powell for allowing this matter to continue. He ruled in the Mullaneʼs favor on every legal issue. In other words, Ray Powell did not have the authority to stop the lease exchange. However, and this is a big however, Ray Powell was not obligated to abide by the judge’s ruling. This was the first hearing of two that were necessary before the Mullane family could sue the State of New Mexico. (We suggest people read the transcript of this hearing and learn the truth.)

During this time, the San Felipe Pueblo again submitted their request to purchase the lease, and once again it was denied by Ray Powell. The only option for the Mullane family was to proceed with their lawsuit.

Finally in the spring 2014, the Land Office decided to allow Cochiti Pueblo to purchase the lease. Cochiti Pueblo would pay $1.8 million and the Land Office would pay $200,000. The Land Office knew they did not have a case and were worried about losing and having the negative publicity just before the elections. Of course Ray Powell was concerned for his reelection and agreed to the sale. The family did have the option to proceed with the lawsuit; however, it was going to take years to resolve. The Mullane family decided to accept the offer and try to get their family settled.

Points to Consider:
How could Ray Powell agree to Cochiti Pueblo buying the lease and yet refuse to allow the San Felipe Pueblo to buy the lease? Members of Cochiti Pueblo never worked at the orchard and knew nothing about orchard business while the San Felipe Pueblo had years of experience working at the orchard. The agreement Cochiti Pueblo signed is the same agreement drawn up 2 years before with the San Felipe Pueblo.

The Mullaneʼs settled for $2 million which sounds like a great deal of money. However, due to Ray Powell, the family incurred huge legal debts of over $600,000. Then there are Federal and State taxes to consider.

During the fall of 2013, the Mullane family actually debated about trying to make the orchard work again. They hired their former foreman to prune trees, water, and do whatever was needed to keep the trees alive. Again the family requested help from the State Land Office, but their request for assistance was again denied. A rock company was contacted by the family to take rock from the canyon to start the clean up process and make enough money to put in a small pond, and get water to the trees. The rock request was denied. The family contacted a pumice company to mine the pumice on the land and bring in funding to work on the canyon. This request was also denied.

Ray Powell made it very clear that he wanted the Mullane family out of Cochiti Canyon. These mining operations would have provided the Mullanes with capital to make improvements to the orchard and also would have provided the State Land Office with income.

Ray Powell did everything he could to prevent the orchard from continuing. He forced the Mullane family to go through 3 years of hardship. He is not a person we can trust with State assets nor should he be trusted to manage State lands.

Patrick and Sue Mullane

Meet Aubrey Dunn, New Mexico’s Best Choice for Land Commissioner

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  1. Sharon D. Wear
    Posted October 9, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Well written response and I totally agree that Ray Powell should not be in office!

    • Posted October 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      I am so sorry you lost your wonderful Apple Orchard…

      Ray Powell had a hand in your losing your business.. that is sad and he should not be in office if he is this kind of politician…

      • Marilyn Novak
        Posted October 12, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

        It was all very sad. I am so glad that the REAL story has been told. I will NOT vote for Ray Powell. I suspected him of not being a very ethical man for several years, while following his exploits in the local paper.

  2. Debra Steinman
    Posted October 11, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Ray Powell should have been recalled, and relieved of any duty pertaining to that office. Instead his corruption is allowed to continue … while a landmark family orchard, and jobs are destroyed.

  3. Sylvia Golden
    Posted October 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Again TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT restricting the flow of business & life!!!. I don’ t know Ray Powell’s side of the story, so why has he been so reluctant to aid & abet the restoration of this once thriving business??? Lack of NM funds cannot be the only reason for not being willing to do his job of managing forest lands. As the saying goes, “follow the money”!

  4. Kenneth
    Posted October 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    wont vote for Ray powell

  5. Nancy Wood
    Posted October 18, 2014 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Such a sad story, as a neighbor of the Mullanes, I have watched Patrick and Sue Mullane suffer great sadness as all of this transpired. So glad they are getting the word out, the truth needs to be heard. Thank goodness Becky Mullane is getting the word out with the powerfu ad. The Mullanes can count on my vote and my husbands vote against Ray Powell. We will support Mr. Dunn.

  6. Rick
    Posted October 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Why hasn’t the Governor removed Mr. Powell from his position? Don’t get me wrong about Governor Martinez, I think she way better than what we’ve had in a long time; however, she has to be or should’ve been aware that Mr. Powell deliberately disobeyed the court, made life hell for the Mullanes, and probably pocketed the insurance funds.

    Whether it was a historic orchard or not, to me, this should’ve been address immediately due to the fact the fire had created the perfect recipe for disaster to the orchard. I do not have any exact figures, nor am I an expert at restoring land; however, I do not believe it would’ve cost the State of New Mexico very much money (already had funds for the claim) to provide the necessary land improvements to stop the flooding, either.

  7. Brenda Bond-Joseph
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    I can’t even imagine your loss and then the State and ray powell’s campaigne against a New Mexican icon.
    His behavior will get him voted out. Your TV commercials started me searching.
    The political ( party – as a place where people talk and even have fun learning)that I am going to next week. – not a political party we will be talking about powell because I will be there. Just so many more people not voting for the jerk plus all the people they talk to are just another community that will vote him out. You never say if he is a Democrat or a Republican and I think that’s Great!
    So wish your family all the best and I know it dose you no good but you are sorle missed

  8. Posted October 26, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Floods come with fires, that’s a given. But allowing native american tribes to aquire “public” lands is just wrong. They will lock the place up, call it a sovereign nation, and not pay a dime’s worth of property tax. Santa clara canyon, ojito’s in sandoval county and countless other areas. You won’t see apples just casinos.

  9. Linda R
    Posted October 26, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I always wondered what happened to the Dixon apple orchard which enjoyed such a wonderful reputation for the “best apples in NM” for so many years. I remember hearing about the fire and then the flood, which is always sad to read about, but I really expected the orchard to rebound, as many other long-time businesses do. To learn that it was thwarted at every turn by the State Land Office is outrageous and deeply concerning. What a loss to New Mexico!

  10. Maggie De Vore
    Posted October 28, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Came to the town of Cochiti in 1997 and was introduced to the original owner of the orchard – I think his name was Fred. We chatted and he told me a very sad and poignant story of he and his wife who struggled mightily to create the orchard.

    I will never, ever forget the tears in this old guys eyes as he shared a tiny shred of their struggle. He said there were nights when they went to bed hungry and crying.

    Here we go again – greed of the politicians looking to their own bank accounts instead of caring for the folks who voted them into office.

    Shame on you!

  11. Michal
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    the fire and floods also destroyed an area upstream where probably 20 families owned land & had cabins. Everything was burned but more importantly, the road in from Cochiti was washed out with the flood. Immediately after the fire the forest service made it illegal for these people to go in and see their land. Some did anyway. But then the forest service also refused to rebuild the road or allow these landowners to rebuild that road. They cannot rebuild or use their land without this road. They can only hike in from above. But they’re still paying taxes on this land. And they had to fight to reduce those tax fees because their land out is essentially just a sooted picnic spot.

  12. Nancy J
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    First off let me say I wish Mullane family the very best.
    This was and is So very wrong on so many levels.
    It is So very disgusting that the government officials don’t won’t help the little people but if you are among the elite help is there.
    As a daughter of a former rancher who had Forest, BLM, and state Land leases, I understand the principal of these leases.
    BUT where is the money going from these leases? Since the money is not going where it’s supposed to, Why can’t they help?
    SHAME on the Politicians, especially the ones who say they care (its only for their buddies and/or money) and the ones who see whats going on and turns a blind eye to it.
    Again I wish the Mullanes the very best.

  13. KRhew
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I already mailed my absentee ballot, voting for Aubrey Dunn, even before I read the Mullane’s story. My brother has peach and pecan orchards in S. Texas so I know what hard work it is and what a loss the Dixon Orchards are. Allen Weh has promised to support fair state and federal land management practices that support farmers and ranchers. I voted for Weh as well. Hope they both win!

  14. Posted November 1, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    I think Ray Powell should have relieved of his duties by the Governor, but I think she is just as wortless, so far she has’ nt done a thing fot the state of NM, same old thing with our leaders in this state, I myself served my country, went to Viet Nam during that conflict, am a proud american, but I am so disappointed at our elected officials it is’nt funny. It seems that our elected official are only there to line there pockets at tax payers expense, because they sure don’t do nothing for our great state, the solution is if they don’t perform, vote them out, It seems to me that is all there looking for, to line their pockets.They all make false promises, bunch of lies, & they’re compulsive lyers, that about the extent of it all, I am very sorry about the dixon orchard because I sure did enjoy those apples, I went every year to dixon orchsrds to get some apples, it is greatly missed, being that I was born and raised in a farm, appleorchard myself, I loved those apples.

  15. Cyndi
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Glad I finally came to this site. Powell should have jumped at the opportunity to help such a landmark of NM. They ran a reputable business, employed local people, and brought happiness to all who visited the orchards and bought the apples. So sad to loose this business. Question: Why was the family denied requests for trying to repair the land and try to start up the business again? Makes you wonder who is behind Ray Powell.

  16. Val
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    This was a powerful message. Why wouldn’t he do what he can to preserve what was left of the orchard? It makes sense to do so. Thank you for your years of dedication, and for the beautiful memories. I pray a blessing that overflows, I believe it’s right around the corner! Peace and a blessed future is yours.
    Val Muldez

  17. nessie knedler
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Another reason we need to be ever vigilant. Bad politicians exist everywhere, even here at home. People should research the csndidate they vote for instead of relying on ads paid for by people who stand to profit by this person being elected into office or by reading the garbsge iappearing in the biased media. I trust the Mullanes have a better future soon.

  18. RJ
    Posted November 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Something very wrong has been done here. I have seen the Powell response on TV istating he decided to ” not bail out” the orchard . So he takes responsibility for it.
    There were many stakeholders involved here but iit appears Powell was at the center of it. In our house we are convinced : the actions taken were wrong from the beginning. Powell will not get our vote and only has our contempt and suspicion. If he is returned to office , WATCH OUT NEW MEXICO!!!

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