Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Auditor Hopeful's Name On Vigil FBI Tapes; There Could Be Others, Plus: Guv Staff Chief Will Serve Two Masters; Does That Fly? It's A Must Read Blog 

Jeff Armijo
Ever since the epic scandal involving ex-State Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya hit the headlines Democrats have feared others would be dragged in and sour their political fortunes. Well, one candidate has now felt the finger of the federal investigation and insiders are weighing the impact.

According to federal court transcripts Angelo Garcia, the alleged bagman in the kickback scheme who served as a campaign fundraiser for Vigil, investment adviser Kent Nelson of California who is at at the center of the scandal and ex-Treasurer Vigil are heard on FBI wiretaps talking about supporting Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo and getting him campaign funds.

That word comes from a Senior Alligator who has pored over some 700 pages of audio transcripts entered in the public court record by Vigil's attorneys. (Senior Alligator: Age 45 or over with 20 plus years of La Politica experience.)

"Vigil, Garcia and Nelson are on FBI tapes talking about support for Jeff Armijo and getting him campaign funds. Another conversation which is pretty funny has Vigil talking to Garcia about backing Tom Benavides who was running for auditor against Domingo Martinez in 2002. I checked the campaign reports and just about the only money Benavides got came from Garcia," reports our source.


Monday night Armijo told me: "I will have to double check my records to determine if he (Vigil) has given my campaign any funds."

"If he gave me money, I will return it." Armijo said.

I asked Armijo, 35, about his relationship with Vigil who was state auditor before being elected Treasurer. "Everyone in politics knows him. That's how I got to know him.
I am not going to sit in judgment of him. That is for the courts to decide. I am praying for him and his family."

The candidate also said he is "not part of the Santa Fe political complex" and that he will apply state auditing standards "fairly to everyone."

Vigil attorney Sam Bregman put the transcripts into the court file when he was making the argument that Vigil was just taking campaign contributions, not kickbacks, informs our reliable Gator who is familiar with the case.


Is Jeff Armijo the only politico who is mentioned by Vigil & Company? Probably not, says our source.

"These are not the only tape recordings Garcia and (ex-Treasurer employee) Leo Sandoval made. They were taping others as were the undercover FBI agents attending Vigil fund raisers. There are probably quite a few Dems who should be concerned," he warned.

Several Democratic insiders reacted to the news saying Armijo is simply mentioned in the tapes and that does not mean he has done anything wrong, but they agreed that any association with the tainted Vigil is sure to be fodder for the coming campaign.

Armijo won nearly 70% of the vote at the Dems preprimary convention and is the favorite to take the nomination, but possible negative campaigning apparently has him worried. His rival for the auditor nod, Rio Rancho's Tom Buckner, a deputy superintendent at the state regulation and licensing department, says Armijo has called him twice to urge him not to engage in negative attacks.

Buckner has taken a swipe at Armijo saying he he would not be a tough watchdog. When informed of the FBI transcripts, Buckner said: "That's interesting. I'll be taking a look."

But Armijo, a Socorro native, did not seem shaken. "The ordinary people of New Mexico will decide this race, and I am campaigning for their votes," he assured his supporters.


Meanwhile, Dan Armijo, former Socorro city councilor and Uncle to Jeff, delivered a blog e-mail slam over the AFSCME union endorsement of Buckner over Jeff.(See Monday's blog.) Dan Armijo claimed Carter Bundy, political maven for the union, has a "personal vendetta" against Jeff who is an elected member of the ABQ TV-I Governing Board. Bundy's wife works with the TV-I foundation.

A final note: Armijo told me he met for four hours recently with State Auditor Domingo Martinez and was briefed on the operations of of that office. Martinez is running for Santa Fe County Assessor. I asked Armijo if Domingo was endorsing his candidacy. "Joe, why don't you give him a call. It could be interesting," Armijo commented. Maybe I will.

Chief-of-Staff Contarino
The other breaking political news Monday was the shifting of Big Bill Chief of Staff Dave Contarino to the Guv's re-elect campaign. Well, a partial shift anyway. Contarino will continue to draw a state paycheck as a part-time chief of staff and another check from the campaign where he will serve as chairman and strategist. The Guv called the arrangement "common" among Guv's seeking re-election, but that doesn't mean questions are not being raised.

The conflict of interest issue is obvious. If you are getting two paychecks, you have two sets of loyalties. Which one prevails, the public's or the political?

Contarino has a first-rate political mind and will no doubt serve the Guv's re-elect well as he did in 2002. Still, insiders wondered why the Guv risked more hits and questions down the road and did not have Contarino make a clean break.

The Guv's argument that Contarino was "indispensable" failed to impress. But a Gator familiar with the Guv's thinking said he has come to depend on Contarino for day-to-day operations. Another speculator felt that by the time Labor Day rolls around Contarino will be entirely gone from the Fourth Floor and full-time in the campaign war room.

The Guv did say he would name a new staff chief shortly, even as Contarino stays on for one day a week. Speculation on the replacement induced head scratching among several Gators, but James Jiminez, head of the Department of Finance and Administration, was one possible popping up. Jiminez was once Rio Rancho city manager and has the skills for the demanding job.


Finally, an R asks: Would a White House chief-of-staff be permitted to pull a Contarino?

What? Is someone running for President around here? I really need to check my e-mail more often.

Speaking of e-mail, Yours is always welcome. Use the link at the top of the page.

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