Known as Manny Aragon’s “castle,” the vacant South Valley Albuquerque mansion built by the disgraced former leader of the New Mexico Senate burned to the ground this week.
Nobody was inside the colossal structure on Camino Cinco SW — near Second Street, south of Rio Bravo — when it was consumed by fire Wednesday night. The Bernalillo County fire marshal as of Thursday evening had not released a finding on what might have caused the blaze.
The Los Angeles Times in a 1998 story described the house, then under construction, as a 7,000-square-foot “Moorish heap of turrets and towers” and “a monstrosity of volcanic rock, adobe and timber that stands as the crowning oddity in one of this city’s poorest neighborhoods.”
Aragon, a lawyer who was in the state Senate for nearly 30 years and was once considered to be the most powerful legislator in the state, had a large concrete-cast replica of the Great Seal of New Mexico mounted above the bed in the master bedroom.
Neighbors on Thursday told a KRQE television reporter that they hadn’t seen anyone living at the house in at least two years.
Aragon, now 71, dropped out of the public eye after he served four and a half years in the federal minimum-security facility in Florence, Colo. for his role in a scheme to defraud the state of $4.4 million skimmed from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse construction project in a kickback scheme.
Aragon, who later admitted to arranging to get more than $600,000 from the project while serving as Senate majority leader, left the Senate in 2004 when he was hired as president of New Mexico Highlands University. His stormy tenure as university president ended in 2006, when the school’s regents approved a $200,000 contract buyout.
After serving time for a 2008 guilty plea to multiple felonies, Aragon was released from prison in December 2013.
The assessed value on the South Valley home dropped to zero, KRQE reported in 2013. The county assessor at the time said the valuation declined because the house did not have any utilities and was uninhabitable.