Attorney General’s Office used hidden camera to record Padilla interview

May 2, 2019

Using gadgetry evoking a James Bond movie, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office positioned a video camera disguised as a coffee pot to record an interview with former state Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who was later charged in a corruption case, court documents show.

Padilla’s lawyer, Paul Kennedy, in an April 15 court filing, called the action “outrageous government conduct” and accused investigators of deliberately eavesdropping on a private conversation between him and his client during a break in the interview.

Attorney General Hector Balderas denied in court documents that any such conversations were listened to or recorded by his staff.

The interview took place in the attorney general’s Albuquerque office on Dec. 13, 2016, just days before Balderas’ agents conducted a search of Padilla’s Santa Fe office, after which she resigned from her Cabinet post in former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

While admitting that the video and audio recording device was left running during a break about an hour into the interview, the attorney general’s April 30 response to Kennedy said, “No attorney-client communications occurred during this break” and the recorder captured only small talk between Padilla and one of the investigators in the room.

According to the recent court filings, both sides during the interview used regular pocket-size audio recorders placed on a conference table to record Padilla’s interview. Balderas said, however, that all recorders, including the one disguised as a coffee pot, were turned off during a second break about two hours into the interview.

Kennedy said the line of questioning by investigators became more aggressive after this second break, which he speculated was prompted by overhearing a conversation between Padilla and her lawyer.

The “discreet recording device, built into the coffee pot” was placed in the corner of the room behind the agents, Balderas’ response said. “The device could record audio and video and had a live feed to a nearby room where other agents could observe the interview,” he wrote. The device was on loan from the Albuquerque Police Department and has since been returned.

“Its current whereabouts are unknown,” Balderas wrote.

Kennedy also raised the specter that a third recording device was used during the Padilla interview, “possibly a lapel pin that recorded or transmitted audio.”

Balderas responded that it’s possible one of his investigators in the room, Agent Jennifer Weber, might have had a recorder with her. “This device, if it ever existed, is believed to be in possession of the [federal Drug Enforcement Administration], which has claimed a privilege against its release and inspection,” Balderas wrote.

But he said there’s no indication that such a device was ever used. It’s not clear why an investigator with the state attorney general would have had such a device from the federal drug agency.

The response points out that Kennedy first raised the issue of “surreptitious recordings” at Padilla’s preliminary hearing in July, during cross-examination of one of the investigators, Agent Ed Griego, who denied Kennedy’s allegations.

In one of his filings, Kennedy asked state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer to dismiss the case. The other asked the judge to order the Attorney General’s Office to turn over all recordings of the interview and any devices used to make the recordings. Balderas said all known recordings already have been turned over.

Padilla — who was an original member of Martinez’s Cabinet and one of its most visible — resigned one day after the search warrant was executed.

In November 2018, following a preliminary hearing, a Santa Fe County magistrate found probable cause for Padilla to stand trial on felony counts of embezzling from one of her private accounting clients and using her public office to interfere in an audit of that client. She also faces five misdemeanor ethics charges.