SANTA FE, N.M. — A prominent Republican fundraiser says FBI agents questioned her in a recent interview about the controversial Downs at Albuquerque racino contract.
Andrea Goff, former finance director of Susana Martinez for Governor and SusanaPAC, made the disclosure in a statement she released over the weekend.
Goff, of Hobbs, declined to elaborate on the specifics of the interview three weeks ago but said none of the questions was related to the indictment last week of Jamie Estrada. Estrada, another Republican insider, was charged last week with hijacking the Susana2010 website and intercepting email traffic.
Gov. Susana Martinez administration insiders have said that asking questions about the Downs would have been a normal part of the FBI investigation in the emails theft case.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said, “As a prosecutor for over 25 years, the governor knows criminals always try to blame the victim. Looking into all their allegations, no matter how ridiculous, is standard procedure and good due-diligence in preparation for trial.”
Asked whether the FBI is investigating the Downs racino contract, FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the agency can’t confirm or deny investigations.
FBI agents have been asking questions about the Downs for more than a year. For example, agents talked to State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode of Albuquerque, a vocal critic of the Downs deal, last year. And at least two other former Martinez campaign workers have been asked questions about the Downs.
No federal grand jury subpoenas have been served on state agencies for records and many key players involved in the deal say they have not been interviewed.
Asked on Monday if anyone involved with SusanaPAC or other political organizations aligned with Martinez had been interviewed or records subpoenaed, Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey said, “No.”
Knell said that the FBI has not interviewed anyone at the Governor’s Office and that the administration hasn’t received any federal grand jury subpoenas in connection with the Expo/Downs contract.
Knell said his answer applied to Expo New Mexico as well.
Chief Operating Officer of the Downs at Albuquerque Scott Eldredge said in a text message that no one from the Downs has been interviewed by the FBI.
Knell said that the allegations are “baseless” and that some of them are nearly 2 years old.
The Downs lease
The process used by Expo New Mexico to select who got to build a $20 million casino and operate the racetrack for 25 years was questioned and criticized while it was going on during the summer and fall of 2011. Journal stories reported on the process from the start and the controversies that followed.
The contract was approved in a 4-to-3 vote in late November 2011 over protests from State Fair neighbors and two members of the State Fair Commission.
The vote came after several amendments were made to the contract by commissioners, including Andrea Goff’s father-in-law, State Fair Commissioner Buster Goff, who also voted to approve the contract.
The state Board of Finance, chaired by Martinez, approved the contract after more amendments were made toughening up enforcement provisions of the contract if the Downs failed to meet conditions on when payments were due.
Martinez’s office has insisted the process was fair and competitively bid.
Only two companies — the Downs at Albuquerque and Laguna Development Corp. — responded to the 100-page Request for Proposals within the required 30 days.
Critics, like Rode, said that was too short a time period to allow for real competition.
Others said the deal needed to get done because the Expo was in debt, and relied on income from the track and casino.
Defenders of the deal said the state was not required to go out to bid. Toward the end of Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, there were sole-source negotiations with the Downs to extend its lease for 40 years.
Two of the Downs owners — Bill Windham and John Turner, both of Louisiana — and companies affiliated with them contributed to Martinez’s campaign and gave smaller amounts to her Democratic opponent, Diane Denish.
Their partner, Paul Blanchard, was finance chairman for Bill Richardson’s first run for governor, and was a major contributor and fundraiser for Richardson’s subsequent campaigns for governor and president.
Last year, emails distributed by Martinez critic Michael Corwin, who runs a union-funded, anti-Martinez PAC, showed that Downs attorney and Republican insider Pat Rogers was complaining to Martinez’s staff and to McCleskey about how the State Fair Commission was stalling on coming to a final vote on the Downs’ contract.
The commissioners originally scheduled two meetings — one to discuss the contract and another to vote on it.
The emails distributed by Corwin were among the hundreds alleged to have been illegally intercepted by Estrada, who now faces a federal felony indictment for hijacking the emails addressed to a former Martinez campaign email address.
Corwin made some of the emails public, and said he turned all of them over to state and federal authorities. Attorney General Gary King made them all public, including many of a personal nature, in response to media requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act.
Last year, Corwin also wrote a letter to the FBI, saying that Andrea Goff’s job with Martinez’s campaign and her father-in-law’s role on the commission raised more questions about the Downs contract.