Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Source: $2.4 to $4 Million Extorted In Treasurer Caper; Fallout Everywhere; Scandal Biggest In "Modern History," Plus: Impact On ABQ Mayor's Race
Vigil & Montoya (KOAT-TV)
Oldtimers of La Politica are calling the state treasurer scandal the biggest in modern history, and sources tracking the action say before it's all over Treasurers Vigil and Montoya will be charged with extorting at least $2.4 million and as much as $4 million, with the lion's share occurring during Montoya's eight year tenure from 1995 to 2003. Both men Monday pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges and afterwards Vigil's lawyer was quick to point the finger at Montoya.
A very reliable source revealed: "Joe, this is incredible. From the FBI affidavit and other sources, we hear charges that 'ghost employees' may have been hired at the treasurer's office and their phony paychecks cashed at a local casino; that others doing business with the office, such as computer vendors, not just bond advisors, were hit up for kickbacks."
"If it's true, it is really beyond the pale," said our insider in a position to know, who also said more charges will be brought reflecting all the funds involved.
Our insider also dropped this piece of info that will have the politicos standing at attention: "The FBI affidavit talks about campaign contributions that were allegedly made with the kickback money. But what campaigns, those of the two treasurers? Montoya's 2000 congressional campaign? Other candidates? And did the so called investment advisers who paid the kickbacks also kick in to political campaigns?"
Inquiring minds will want to know.
PLEADING IT OUT?
Also on the legal beat, in-the-know types say they do not expect ex-Treasurer Montoya to stand trial. "He has hired defense attorney Jacqueline Robins, the NM former chief public defender. She is known for her plea bargains and that's what a lot of us expect, perhaps the same for Vigil," said one.
But any plea would have to carry stiff punishment or the public outcry would blast the windows out of the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse where Big Bill and his staff scrambled throughout the weekend in a desperate effort at damage control.
Here's an e-mail to our inbox that sums up the public attitude: "The accused should not be anywhere near our money. Talk won't cut it. Vigil should not be allowed to step foot in the door, and if he does, the Gov/AG should have state police standing beside him every minute."
The absolute chutzpah of the alleged scheme had phone lines statewide burning with urgent intensity, shocked taxpayers howling in protest on talk radio and friends of Big Bill worried that the scandal could dramatically alter perceptions of his administration here and nationally.
"People around the country don't know the treasurer is elected. They now associate New Mexico with Governor Richardson. He has embraced the notion and this is the downside. Anything that goes wrong ends up on his doorstep," argued a political veteran.
BIG BILL'S PLEA UNANSWERED
Big Bill's demand that Vigil step aside (according to first news reports the demand was for resignation), went unanswered Monday, with the indicted treasurer's attorney, former Democratic party vice-chair Sam Bregman, saying "all options are on the table." One likely option for Vigil is "administrative leave with pay," but even that may not quiet the natives as it becomes known just how much cash was allegedly extorted.
"Knowing Robert (Vigil) as I do, I don't think he will resign. Administrative leave is another question. That may happen. But it's still possible he could seek re-election," said a longtime personal acquaintance of Vigil.
If he did run, you could bet the ranch he would have fellow Dem primary opposition and big trouble even getting a place on the ballot at the Spring pre-primary convention.
"Much depends now on how much this story plays in the press. If it doesn't quiet down, the worse it will be for us. The Governor is going to have to stay firm on getting rid of Vigil, and like all other Democratic candidates, he's going to hope that none of the money in question found its way to campaigns or PAC's associated with him. That would just further the damage," said a top level Dem, speaking on deep background.
AS USUAL, FOLLOW THE MONEY
U.S. Attorney Iglesias
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said he would be "following the money' which means more revelations to come. Even though he is an R, Dems say the evidence laid out publicly has been convincing. So far, Treasurer Vigil is the only one openly charging partisan politics is responsibile for the indictments. Most Dems are stunned and in shock at the scope of the alleged scheme. However, one did say that Iglesias "has thrown a hand grenade in the water and is waiting to see what dead bodies surface." He added: "We have to watch carefully and see how this unfolds, and see if the dollar figures and other charges have been sensationalized."
Meanwhile, present and former GOP lawmakers like Senator Carraro and Ex-Rep Burpo made the talk-radio rounds saying they warned this was coming, as did ex-R Governor Johnson in a TV interview. But the D's were having none of it. Said one: "If they knew so much, how come they didn't do much?" Didn't Gary Johnson control the state police when he was governor?"
The State Investment Council on which the governor and the treasurer sit and which is charged with watchdogging state investments also came under intense fire for not monitoring the commissions being paid for bond trades. "Questions were raised about the size of the commissions paid and the frequency of trading, but they went ignored," claimed a Santa Fe politico.
And a top New Mexico journalist fired back at press critics who place some blame at their doorstep. "We did stories on the suspicious activity, but they landed like a thud on the driveway. The problem in this state is weak prosecutors. They have done nothing. Look at the APD evidence room scandal and the others that have gone on in full public light, yet no one is ever held accountable. It's like a third world country," the veteran scribe fumed.
You would think GOP mayoral candidate Brad Winter would also be fuming over the scandal. After all, his campaign slogan is "Honest Leadership." But Brad was busy protesting what he called a misleading sign concerning his position on the Montano bridge put up by Mayor Marty's campaign, rather than concentrating his guns on the juicy target of ethics and the ABQPAC fundraising scandal that has haunted the mayor.
Frustrated Winter supporters let the campaign have it with both barrels: "This is just ineptitude. There is no other way to explain it. You have indicted top elected Democrats all over the news and the Republican candidate for mayor is seemingly oblivious. Marty has got to be thanking his lucky stars," bewailed one Winter R.
But another R claimed Brad "will surge in the final weeks as his message becomes clear and Republicans 'come home.' He doesn't need to shout about the scandal, people know what's going on," he argued.
Over at the Eric Griego campaign things perked up with the unveiling of a TV spot modeled after one from the 1990 campaign of the late liberal Dem Minnesota U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone. But Hispanic Democrats across the board were especially worried about the scandals impact.
"No question, there is an ethnic factor. Hispanic Democrats, already viewed with suspicion in some quarters, could suffer the most politically from this," said our top D.
MY BOTTOM LINES
Right now the public isn't in any mood to handicap who, if anyone, gains from the scandal. No, Mr. And Mrs. New Mexico are scratching their heads and checking their wall calendars. Is this really 2005? And this stuff is still happening in their Enchanted Land?
It will be up the the current political establishment to prove wrong the most enduring quote from this scandal: "It's the way we do business in New Mexico," said one of those charged.
Email me your news and comments and keep the politics coming.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2005
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