Jury convicts New Mexico state senator in corruption trial
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A former New Mexico state senator was convicted Thursday of fraud, bribery and felony ethical violations in a corruption trial over accusations he used his position as a lawmaker to profit from the sale of a state-owned building.
Prosecutors accused Phil Griego of using his elected position and acumen as a real estate broker to guide the sale of the building in downtown Santa Fe through approvals by a state agency, the Legislature and a public buildings commission without properly disclosing his financial interest.
Griego, 69, resigned from the Legislature in 2015 at the close of a Senate ethics investigation.
He said he did nothing wrong in earning a $50,000 commission from buyers of the property.
Defense attorneys emphasized that many high-ranking state government officials backed the transaction — some with knowledge of the former state senator’s involvement.
Several lawmakers testified that they were left in the dark or mislead by Griego on the matter.
Jurors found Griego, a Democrat, guilty of bribery, fraud against the state, unlawful interest in a public contract and two counts of violating ethical principles of public service.
He was acquitted of three charges — defrauding a business partner, perjury and violating the state’s financial disclosure act.
The guilty verdicts carry a possible sentence of up to 17½ years. Sentencing is expected with 90 days.
Prosecutors said Griego helped spread misinformation in the Legislature to encourage the building’s sale by asserting that maintenance costs outweighed rental income, when lease documents assigned the cost of maintenance to those renting the property.
Griego acknowledged persuading a House colleague to introduce legislation authorizing the property sale without mentioning communications with the prospective buyer. Prosecutors said that and other legislative maneuvers served to disguise Griego’s involvement.
The building in question was located outside the rural Senate district that Griego represented for 18 years in the nation’s only unsalaried legislature.
State Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who Griego referred to in court testimony as “a friend,” assigned a team of four prosecutors to the case.
“Public officials are elected to do the work of the people, not to enrich themselves,” Balderas said in a statement Thursday.
Griego’s case is the latest in a string of high-profile corruption scandals involving public officials in New Mexico.
Republican Dianna Duran resigned as secretary of state in 2015 amid revelations she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction. That led to her conviction on felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering.
In a separate case, Griego has been charged by a grand jury with multiple counts of perjury and embezzlement related to campaign finance reports that prosecutors say were falsified.
Griego’s wife wept briefly in court as the verdict was read. The defendant was released against the advice of prosecutors, with a warning by state district Judge Brett Loveless that he should not repeat the mistake of talking to witnesses as he did this month during trial.