Man says feds, thieves ‘robbed’ his family of land

Posted at: 01/31/2014 10:29 PM
Updated at: 01/31/2014 10:31 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

An Albuquerque man believes someone impersonated his grandfather and sold the family’s land to the federal government.  The feds refuse to sell it back unless the man takes them to court.

Patrick Zambrano contacted 4 On Your Side and showed the team around the roughly 560 acres near Cuba, New Mexico.

“This here is my grandfather's ranch.  He died in 1954,” Zambrano said.

Y.G. Zambrano acquired the land through one of the Homestead Acts nearly 100 years ago.

“And he built these corrals,” Zambrano said pointing to some aged iron fencing on the land.

Yet in the eyes of federal land officials, the corrals, the ranch workers and the herds of cattle they occasionally guide across the land are not Zambrano’s.

“It just kind of tears you apart,” Zambrano said.

Since 2012, when the Zambranos first extensively explored their roots, officials at the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, have played a legal game of tug-of-war with the family.

Initially, in June of that year, a BLM land examiner told Zambrano that his family has surface rights to the land.  But almost exactly a year later, the agency sent him a letter “rescinding” what was said the first time.

According to the second letter, the agency located a “warranty deed” from 1940.  It shows that a man named Ysabel G. Zambrano sold the 560 acres back to the federal for $1,000 at the time.

“That’s not my grandfather’s signature,” Zambrano said when he noticed the signature on the document.

He said his grandfather never signed his full name on any document.  Zambrano retrieved a copy of grandpa Zambrano’s military draft card in which the man clearly signed “Y.G. Zambrano.”

“My grandfather always put ‘Y.G. Zambrano,’” the younger Zambrano said.

The questionable signature is the point of contention between Zambrano and the BLM.

“I’ve been robbed,” Zambrano said.

Indeed, the different signatures appear to raise questions especially after the BLM first told Zambrano that the land belongs to his family.

“It was a mistake, it was an error,” Donna Hummel with the BLM said in an interview with 4 On Your Side.

She said the agency initially overlooked a portion of the land file, yet has to rely on the warranty deed that staff eventually uncovered.

“The decision on whether or not this is a forged document, or someone else came in and got that thousand dollars, is beyond the purview of the BLM,” Hummel said.

She said a federal judge is the only person who could legally throw out the warranty deed.

Until Zambrano and his family are able to find an attorney they can afford, they’re stuck watching other people – including the cattle and the ranch workers – use the land that they believe is part of their legacy.

“Something in my heart … makes me feel like I'm someone,” Zambrano said in tears.  “And not just anybody. I feel like I'm someone. And all my brothers and sisters feel the same.”