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U.S. attorney letter confirms FBI investigation of Richardson

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A letter from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales to Gov. Susana Martinez provides the first documentation that the FBI was investigating how former Gov. Bill Richardson settled a threatened lawsuit by a former state employee who claimed she had been in a coercive relationship with Richardson.

The letter, obtained by the Journal through a records request, was sent to Martinez on June 20, 2012, and asked her to waive attorney-client privilege on behalf of the Governor’s Office so FBI agents could interview Richardson’s former general counsel.

A few weeks later, Martinez agreed to a limited waiver of the privilege.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI would never confirm the investigation at the time and had no comment on the letters. Neither Richardson nor his public relations people appear to have ever commented on the issue.

But the former governor’s private attorney, Peter Schoenburg of Albuquerque, called the letters “an old story” in an email this week, responding to a request for comment. He added that the grand jury investigation ended last year without returning any indictments.

The Journal reported in 2011 that the woman, who held positions as both a classified employee and political employee, agreed to drop her claim and pledge confidentiality in exchange for nearly $250,000.

Gonzales’ letter broadly outlines the investigation.

“Part of our investigation involves a Settlement Agreement and Release (the “Agreement”) executed by former Governor Richardson on or about October 7, 2007,” the letter says.

Under the agreement, the former governor agreed to pay a sum of money in exchange for a former state employee’s agreement not to reveal the existence of the agreement nor any of the facts leading to the agreement, the letter says.

The FBI wanted to interview Hilary Tompkins, who was general counsel to Richardson at the time and who later went on to work for the U.S. Department of Interior.

Investigators wanted to ask about any role Tompkins might have played “in discussing, reviewing and drafting the agreement on behalf of the former Governor.”

“When the FBI attempted to interview Ms. Tompkins, her private counsel repeatedly asserted the attorney-client privilege on behalf of Ms. Tompkins and the former Governor,” the letter says.

Tompkins, still with the Department of Interior, could not be reached for comment this week.

In granting the waiver request, Martinez wrote that the privilege “should not be used to evade law enforcement efforts or investigations when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and when a state employed attorney was involved in a personal legal matter related to her government client.”

Gonzales said in his letter that he was making the request because Martinez had issued two executive orders after taking office – one that required state employees to cooperate with federal investigations and another that required written authorization from the Governor’s Office before an employee invoked executive privilege.

Grand jury

The Journal initially reported on the investigation in 2011, when the newspaper learned that people active in Richardson’s short-lived presidential campaign had been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Albuquerque.

Those appearing included Amanda Cooper, who served as finance director for Richardson’s presidential campaign, and Anthony Correra, a Richardson fundraiser who was tied to a scandal involving state investments.

The grand jury was investigating whether campaign contributors with varying degrees of business with the state during Richardson’s administration were asked to contribute to a fund to pay a legal settlement on Richardson’s behalf.

In the fall of 2007, as Richardson prepared for the New Hampshire primary and Democratic Party caucuses in Iowa, the female former state employee threatened to file a civil lawsuit against Richardson that would have revealed their relationship.

The threatened lawsuit was settled for nearly $250,000, and the money was wired from a bank in Mexico to her attorney’s account.

The federal investigation was trying to determine whether the money was tied to Richardson’s presidential campaign.

According to several private attorneys familiar with the investigation, witnesses were asked about campaign travel to Iowa in late 2007 and January donations to an Iowa-based political committee.

They were also asked about the structuring of campaign contributions to possibly disguise the source of the money, according to the same lawyers.

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