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Downs Lawyer Wanted To Talk

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SANTA FE – An attorney for one of the bidders on a new Downs at Albuquerque lease told Gov. Susana Martinez’s deputy chief of staff he urgently needed “5 minutes of your time” and also sent the request to the governor’s political adviser, according to a newly released email.

However, a Martinez spokesman said Ryan Cangiolosi, the deputy chief of staff, never received the email in question from attorney Pat Rogers, nor several others like it because they were sent to an inactive account, and suggested the electronic messages were obtained through illegal hacking.

The governor’s spokesman, Scott Darnell, also said there was no meeting as a result of the email request from Rogers, who represented the Downs majority owners.

The email was one of three released this week by a Democrat-leaning political organization, Independent Source PAC, which claims the messages show collusion between Martinez’s office and Rogers’ client on the new racino lease.

The emails are dated Sept. 1, Oct. 31, and Nov. 1, all in 2011. The email demanding an audience with Cangiolosi was dated Oct. 31, 2011, just weeks before the State Fair Commission was scheduled to meet in order to vote on whether to approve the lease with Downs at Albuquerque, whose bid had already been recommended.

The lease was awarded to Rogers’ client in a 4-to-3 vote by commission members on Nov. 21, 2011, over a bid by Laguna Development Corp.

The Downs has held the lease since 1985. Laguna Development Corp. was the only other bidder on the new lease. Laguna filed a protest of the contract award, but that protest was denied last month by the State Fair’s general manager.

In the Oct. 31 email sent to an address for Cangiolosi on Martinez’s 2010 campaign account, Rogers, a Republican National Committee member from New Mexico, wrote: “I need 5 minutes of your time, quickly, this am (sic), now.”

Darnell disputed claims made at a news conference Tuesday by the head of Independent Source PAC, Michael Corwin. Darnell said Cangiolosi’s private email account – created for Martinez’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign – was no longer functional at the time Rogers sent the emails, several weeks in advance of the Fair Commission vote.

“Ryan did not receive that email and has received no emails to that address since the middle of last year,” Darnell said.

Reversing the criticism

Darnell criticized Corwin, who previously worked for Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, as a “researcher” and consultant.

“Bill Richardson’s private investigator is so desperate to smear this governor that he is peddling emails that were illegally intercepted,” Darnell said. “This matter was turned over to the appropriate federal law enforcement authorities last week and we are confident those who committed these crimes will be brought to justice.”

Corwin also said he had turned the emails over to state and federal authorities.

The three email messages released this week all were sent last year by Rogers to the same campaign email account of Cangiolosi. Two of the emails were also sent to Martinez’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, at the email address of his consulting firm.

Rogers is representing a client at an unrelated trial in Gallup this week and could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday. McCleskey declined to comment on the emails Wednesday.

Corwin declined to identify his source for obtaining the emails, but said he did not believe they were illegally intercepted.

Two of the three messages were sent about three weeks before the State Fair Commission – whose members are appointed by Martinez – voted to approve the 25-year lease for the Downs to operate a horse-racing track and casino at the State Fairgrounds.

The Downs at Albuquerque’s bid had already been recommended at that point by a three-member evaluation committee.

Corwin claimed the most recent email message, sent Nov. 1, 2011, indicated Rogers was working behind the scenes to line up enough votes to ensure the lease for the Downs at Albuquerque was approved.

In that message, Rogers wrote that State Fair Commission Chairman Larry Kennedy needed to “lock down Bitsui,” in an apparent reference to fellow commissioner Ruth Bitsui of Corrales.

However, in the context of the emails it appears the “locking down” reference could refer to pinning down a time for a meeting. Included in the same email string was legal advice that Rogers sent to Expo New Mexico General Manager Dan Mourning, explaining that participation via telephone would likely not be allowed for commission meetings because it was not provided for in the commission’s rules.

The telephone participation reference was apparently to another commission member, Kenneth “Twister” Smith of Caballo.

Bitsui voted in favor of the Downs lease, while Smith was one of the members who voted against it. Bitsui did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

‘Dragon lady’

The email sent a day earlier by Rogers that demanded a meeting with Cangiolosi contained the subject line “dragon lady” and said: “The shill for the Maloof’s has copied Brunt on her email to Dan, demanding a meeting.”

“Dragon lady” apparently refers to Charlotte Rode, a member of the State Fair Commission who was an outspoken opponent of the Downs lease. Charles Brunt is a Journal reporter who had been covering the Downs lease, which drew neighborhood opposition and criticism from individuals who said it was rushed by Martinez’s administration.

The reason for the apparent reference to the prominent Maloof family of Albuquerque is not clear.

Just 35 minutes before Rogers’ email was sent on Oct. 31, 2011, Rode had in fact sent an email to fellow State Fair commissioners and several others, including Brunt and Cangiolosi, regarding scheduling of the commission’s upcoming meeting.

Rode said Wednesday she considers the term “dragon lady” to be a compliment, while also weighing in on the released emails.

“I did see them, and I’m not surprised by them,” she said. “But I am disappointed that our state government is operating in a way that seems more like a secret society than an open, transparent, business friendly, Republican administration.”

Running battle

The disclosure of the Downs emails is the latest salvo in a running battle between state Democratic and Republican interests on the subject of whether private email addresses have been used to conduct public business and shield discussions from public records requests. Both sides also allege that public resources have been misused for political ends and have asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate.

In response, Martinez last week directed all state employees under her authority to use their official government accounts when conducting state business via email.

Journal staff writer Charles Brunt contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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