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King’s Future May Hinge on 2 Cases

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Gary King — state attorney general, former state representative, member of a political dynasty — has dreamed of being governor.

I’m not sure King could win a race for county commission right now, but he has 2 1/2 years remaining on his second term as the state’s chief attorney. The next governor’s election is in 2014.

The outcomes of two major government corruption cases brought by King’s office could help resuscitate his career in politics or drive a stake in it.

One of the cases involves the Region III Housing Authority and ex-state Rep. Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos, the other former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Gallegos and Vigil-Giron could go to trial this year.

Last June, King held an extraordinary 90-minute news conference to defend his record since becoming attorney general in January 2007.

King told reporters his office “has been more aggressive at pursuing public corruption than any other attorney general in the history of New Mexico.”

He blamed complaints about his performance on a public hangover from the days of Gov. Bill Richardson, who left office at the end of 2010.

“Frankly, most of the criticism of our office, if you boil it down, is why haven’t you indicted Bill Richardson?” King said.

Here’s a recap of the attorney general’s year since that news conference:

♦ Evidence of possible wrongdoing in state investments during the Richardson administration has continued to pile up, but no one has been charged with a crime. The AG’s Office also hasn’t recovered any civil damages.

♦ Then-Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. pleaded guilty last fall to embezzlement and other charges, but King’s office was criticized for not requiring prison time in the plea deal. Block got probation.

♦ Despite King being the chairman of the panel, the Law Enforcement Academy board in December ousted an attorney from King’s office who handled disciplinary cases against bad cops, alleging the lawyer was ineffective.

♦ King disclosed in October that he received a $15,000 campaign contribution from a New York law firm despite a new law that set a maximum donation of $10,000 per election season. He argued the law didn’t apply but later returned $5,000 to the firm.

♦ King continued his legal battle with a private lawyer who forced the AG’s Office to comply with the state Inspection of Public Records Act and pay about $20,000 in damages for withholding documents.

♦ The Federal Election Commission found that King’s 2004 congressional campaign committee violated federal law and FEC regulations in filing 45 reports with the FEC. The reports were filed with the electronic signature of the campaign treasurer without the treasurer reviewing them. King personally filed most, if not all, of the reports.

♦ King acknowledged in January that his investigators were given information in 2008 about an alleged fraud scheme at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe — not just “several months ago” as a King spokeswoman had said.

You can’t blame all that on a public hangover from the Richardson days.

As for King’s political future, he still has a lot going for him. He’s an experienced campaigner and a Democrat in a blue state. He’s only 57. He is smart, likeable and free of scandal. He still benefits from the affection that many people had for his late parents, Bruce (a three-time governor) and Alice King.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a turnaround in King’s political career without wins in the Region III and Vigil-Giron cases.

Gallegos, former head of Region III, and Dennis Kennedy, a former CPA for the authority, are scheduled to go on trial in October on money laundering and other charges. Trial dates for two other defendants haven’t been set.

Former Secretary of State Vigil-Giron, accused of misusing millions of dollars in federal funds for voter education, is scheduled to go to trial in September, but the trial is likely to be rescheduled.

Vigil-Giron and three other defendants continue to push for dismissal of the case, arguing King’s office has failed to speedily bring the defendants to trial.

The AG’s Office was forced by a judge to appoint an independent prosecutor for the case because of the appearance of a possible conflict of interest. Still, the public will likely hold King responsible for the outcome.

Both the Vigil-Giron and Region III cases were brought in 2009.

Not long ago, a prominent Democrat told me King would be dead on arrival if he ever decided to run again for public office. Maybe so. It’s hard to imagine him saving his political career if he doesn’t start soon.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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