Jury hears final arguments in New Mexico corruption trial
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico state prosecutors and a defense attorney clashed Wednesday in court over accusations that a former state senator hid his personal financial interest in the sale of a state-owned building, in closing statements to a jury after weeks of witness testimony.
Jury deliberations were scheduled to start Thursday morning on corruption charges against former Sen. Phil Griego in the sale of the building in downtown Santa Fe.
Assistant Attorney General Clara Moran told jurors that Griego avoided repeated opportunities to publicly disclose his personal financial interest as a real estate broker in the 2014 sale of the building, as he guided approval of the transaction past a state agency, the Legislature and a public buildings commission.
Griego acted as an agent for the buyer of the property, eventually earning a $50,000 commission.
Griego has said he broke no laws and that the Legislature approved the real estate deal before he signed a commission agreement. Prosecutors say Griego began paving the way for approval of the sale after talking in September 2013 with prospective buyer Ira Seret, and that Griego concealed his commitments to Seret by having a colleague sponsor legislation for the sale. Griego later left the details of his commission off required financial disclosure forms.
“He had the duty — the duty to disclose that he had a direct conflict, a direct pecuniary benefit, and he never did that,” Moran told the jury, describing Griego as a skilled political puppeteer who manipulated legislative and business colleagues. “He is on trial for abusing his office.”
Defense attorney Thomas Clark described as “nonsense” the allegations that Griego kept secret his financial interest from state officials.
He cited documents and testimony showing that two officials at the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources knew of Griego’s involvement in February 2014, while the Legislature was still weighing approval of the property sale.
At the same time, Clark accused one of those officials and two employees of another state agency of lying in court when they said they could not recall or did not know if Griego told them of his personal financial involvement in the sale at a March 2014 meeting — after the legislative session. General Services Secretary Ed Burckle attended the meeting and testified that Griego disclosed business ties to the buyer.
“This idea that Phil Griego was operating under this shroud of secrecy is absolutely false,” Clark said.
Clark said Griego even talked about his role in the building sale in the days before it was finalized with then-State Auditor Hector Balderas, currently the state attorney general. Testimony about the one-on-one encounter was limited to a general description by the judge overseeing the trial.
Clark explained that Griego left details of his real estate commission off disclosure forms in 2015 because he was accustomed to outdated requirements, and that the commission had been reported by news outlets by then.
Griego served 18 years in the Legislature before resigning in 2015 at the conclusion of a legislative investigation that showed he violated Senate ethics rules and constitutional provisions barring lawmakers from using their office for financial benefit.
Griego testified that he signed off on the written conclusions of that investigation because he thought it would end the matter and to show he never intended to do anything wrong.
Prosecutors reviewed testimony Wednesday showing how Griego intervened repeatedly in the Senate to ensure the legislation would advance to a final vote of approval in February 2014.
Criminal charges against Griego include fraud, bribery, perjury, violating the ethical principles of public service, unlawful interest in a public contract and violating financial disclosure requirements.
The case includes allegations that Griego defrauded a business partner by leaving for another real estate firm without mentioning the state-building deal, an accusation Griego also denies.
A conviction on all counts would carry potential penalties of more than 23 years in jail and fines up to $33,000.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Hector Balderas was state auditor at the time, not state treasurer as originally reported.