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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Defending Rebecca: Does Gary Have The Goods? Plus: Corruption Capers; The Latest & Their Impact, And: The Bottom Lines 

Gary vs. Rebecca
They say a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Is former NM Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron a ham sandwich or is the 50 count indictment brought against her by a grand jury and Attorney General Gary King the real deal? The debate has raged since Vigil-Giron, who served three terms as SOS, was indicted last week.

Vigil-Giron is proclaiming her innocence, but after the charges against her were laid out in the press she was excoriated as the latest example of New Mexico gone wild when it comes to political corruption. But there is another side coming into our e-mail box. For example, here’s Lewis Kidron, a politico from Texas who asserts the indictment is riddled with holes:

The iron-clad case against Vigil-Giron, who spoke at our 2006 Texas Democratic Party convention, rests on a letter she backdated to 'cover-up" this massive money-laundering and embezzlement scheme. According to the New Mexico Independent:


...The Aug. 26, 2004, letter changed the method of payment for (media consultant Armando) Gutierrez, who with Vigil-Giron and two others, was indicted. The letter stipulated that Gutierrez would go from being paid at three hourly rates to a single, 17-percent administrative fee of the value of work his firm performed, according to the letter.


While changing a payment agreement after the fact might be stupid, it is not a felony the last time I checked, and certainly isn't something one would normally be facing 20 years in prison for. But I'm also not a state official from New Mexico...


So we've got some evidence here that she let this shady consultant "re-negotiate" his contract without following all of the rules and regs. Pretty stupid, Becky, but what are the rest of these 49 counts against her all about? There doesn't seem to be any evidence that Vigil-Giron got any money out of this massive criminal operation she was "in on.”

Vigil-Giron is the only one accused of embezzling an "unspecified" amount without any bank transactions listed to prove the accusation.


It could be that she is guilty as sin, but this whole thing looks a bit "opportunistic" on the part of Attorney General Gary King. Let's face it--if you were the NM attorney general, as corrupt as that state is, would you want the R's accusing you of "going easy" on a former state official like Vigil-Giron? Probably not.

If Vigil-Giron does not cop a plea, her trial would probably take place next year--in election season. The indictment did provide banking details on the charges against Gutierrez and lobbyist Joe Kupfer and his wife, Daisy Kupfer.

A FULL PLATE

King has his plate full. Earlier, he came with indictments in a regional housing authority scandal, including one of former State Rep. Smiley Gallegos. Also, the AG was rebuffed in his efforts to have nonprofit organizations active in last year’s legislative campaigns disclose their campaign donations and expenditures. He now says he will appeal that federal court ruling.

Insiders say King plans a re-election announcement in September. His main threat has been a primary challenge from the left based on an inactive record in going after political corruption. In 2006, King handily defeated Dem primary challengers Lemuel Martinez and Geno Zamora. A Hispanic Dem challenger is also a concern, but no names are circulating. King looks good for the Dem nomination. However, voters have placed a glass ceiling on King, rejecting him when he sought to advance the the governor’s office or the US Congress.

With the two big corruption cases he’s involved in, King’s corruption fighting record is no longer at issue, but whether he and his office are effective and competent in prosecuting corruption is still up in the air. The criticism of the Vigil-Giron indictment, the recent federal court loss on the non-profits and the undetermined outcome of the housing scandal means the verdict on Gary King’s tenure remains out. Still, a Republican getting elected attorney general is a rarity, and so far no big R names are running.

SIDEBAR ACTION


Vigil-Giron first ran and won the secretary of state’s office in 1986. Vigil-Giron was a longtime and ardent support of Bruce King, father of Gary King, who shares a political record with Rebecca. She’s the longest- ever serving secretary of state, clocking 12 years in the office. Bruce is the longest-ever serving Governor. He also served three, four year terms, the last of which was from 1991-1995.

DULY NOTED

A Legal Beagle checks in with the news that Joe and Daisy Kupfer, indicted by the AG’s grand jury, gave Gary King a $1000 campaign donation in September 2006.

Also, the AG was knocking down speculation Monday that his office has a conflict of interest in prosecuting the Vigil-Giron case because one of his lawyers involved in the Vigil-Giron case had been fired by Daisy Kupfer when she headed Attorney General Madrid's administrative services division. He said there is no need for the indictments to be quashed, but if such an allegation proved correct, he would name a special prosecutor. Wonder who that would be?

OTHER STUFF OUT THERE

Could there be more indictments that shake the New Mexico earth as we head for Election 2010? That federal pay-to-play investigation into the administration of Governor Richardson hasn’t been heard from lately. The probe turned one year old this month. The last heard was that the decision on whether to issue indictments in the case was on the desk of US Attorney General Holder. Bill recently conducted diplomacy with the North Koreans in Santa Fe, diplomacy that insiders say had to have a wink and a nod from the White House. That fueled speculation that he is unlikely to be the subject of an indictment.

Bill's former top associates--David Contarino and David Harris--have also figured prominently in that investigation conducted by Republican US Attorney Greg Fouratt. While the Legal Beagles think the portion of the probe involving them has wrapped up, there is no way of knowing for sure. The feds make no announcement when they conclude an investigation. Maybe there should be a new rule in this age of intense media coverage. Can’t the US attorney--without making any comments--simply put out a one sentence statement if and when a major probe has concluded? We’re just asking.

And then there’s the federal grand jury probe in Virginia looking into the US attorney scandal. Since new revelations came from the House Judiciary committee regarding the firing of NM US Attorney David Iglesias and others, there was open speculation in the national media that former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson could be subjected to an obstruction of justice indictment. A long shot? Probably. But it is hanging out there as is the question of whether the revelations have perhaps soured Heather on the possibility of seeking the 2010 GOP Guv nomination.

THE BIG PICTURE

You can look at the wave of indictments and investigations several ways. That New Mexico is rancid with political corruption and is a hopeless third-world, banana republic that will never advance economically or socially as long as the politicians are picking the cupboard clean or playing politics illegally,. Or you can argue that the various investigations show the state is getting cleaned up and most of the corruption has been ferreted out. Or you can make the case that some of those being investigated have made--that they are victims of overzealous prosecution and much of the corruption talk is just that.

We’ve said it before and so have others--political corruption alone is unlikely to be the driving issue in election 2010. But the candidates that can demonstrate ethics is having a direct impact on the state’s economic prospects may have something. The Great Recession has delivered a body blow to thousands of New Mexican households. When times are good, the antics of the politicos here often elicit a cheery derision. But when times are bad, the cheap seats get antsy and out come the rotten tomatoes. Who will they splatter? Stay tuned.

NO BLOOD


Maybe the two challengers to incumbent Mayor Marty Chavez--Republican RJ Berry and Dem Richard Romero--will let their paid media deliver the attacks on Chavez that seem needed to dislodge him from the front runner position or at least deprive him of the 40 percent of the vote needed on Oct. 6 to avoid a run-off election. Monday at a debate before the development and business community and broadcast live on KANW 89.1 FM, the challengers were content to take mild jabs at Chavez who is seeking his third term in a row and fourth overall. All three candidates came across well on the radio, but that means Chavez did not lose.

BUDGET CRISIS ACTION


Our Santa Fe insiders said last week to look for an across-the-board cut in the state budget in order to eliminate a whopping $433 million shortfall for the budget year that started July 1. And that's just what Big Bill appears to be going for as he prepares to call a special legislative session in October. You are not going to get major savings during a special by doing a diagram of the budget. Bill will do his best to control just where the cuts come, but if he doesn't come with enough of them, State Sen. John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith and company are sure to have some tips for him.

THE BOTTOM LINES

And what's this? Big Bill surprised everyone by taking off for a trade mission to Cuba? Last week it was North Korean diplomats meeting in Santa Fe with Bill. Cuba and North Korea are two nations that are barely on speaking terms with the USA, but Bill probably doesn't mind. Their faces are a lot more friendly than the ones at the NM US attorney's office.

And some political matchmaking. How about either ABQ R Guv candidates Allen Weh or State Rep. Janice Arnold Jones at the top of the ticket matched with Dona Ana DA Susana Martinez as the Lt. Gov. contender. The matchmakers say that brings north and south to the party, but Susana may ask why can't Allen or Janice be on the bottom of the ticket. Good question. Because ABQ has more people? Maybe Heather has an answer...

This is the home of New Mexico politics. E-mail your news and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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