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Gov.’s helicopter flight not illegal, AG’s Office says

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The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office says Gov. Susana Martinez didn’t break any law when she used a State Police helicopter in 2011 to get from a state meeting to the Albuquerque airport to catch a flight to a Texas political fundraiser.

Gov. Susana Martinez

MARTINEZ: Has no plans to reimburse $800 cost

However, the AG’s Office said it would “seem highly appropriate” for Martinez to reimburse the state the $800 it cost taxpayers to fly Martinez to Albuquerque from Santa Fe to depart on political travel to Houston, AG’s general counsel R. David Pederson said.

Martinez on Monday said she doesn’t plan to do so.

Martinez traveled on Nov. 15, 2011, to Houston to attend private fundraisers to help raise money for the Republican Governors’ Association, which paid for Martinez’s commercial flight between Albuquerque and Houston.

The attorney general’s comments came on Friday in response to a complaint regarding political use of the helicopter filed by the political group ProgressNow New Mexico in October after the trip was reported by the Journal.

The AG’s Office said on Monday it would not attempt to enforce reimbursement or further investigate the event.

Martinez has said use of the state helicopter was appropriate because it allowed her to attend a state Board of Finance meeting in Santa Fe the same day that ran longer than scheduled.

“Some very important issues were coming up that involved UNM that I needed to stay at, but it wasn’t moving fast enough,” Martinez said Monday. “And the fastest way for me to go from Santa Fe to the airport where I was going to catch a commercial plane was to get me there by helicopter.”

Pederson in his review said attendance at the Board of Finance meeting was a “plausible official purpose” that doesn’t violate the Governmental Conduct Act. The Act prohibits use of state resources for political purposes.

But Martinez still might have an obligation to reimburse the helicopter costs because the expedited flight to the airport “was a convenience afforded to her that would not be available to the average citizen or public official, even if no law was broken,” Pederson said.

Martinez disagreed.

“No law was broken and the attorney general has confirmed that no law was broken,” Martinez said. “State Police have to transport me by law everywhere I go. So even when I go from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, they have to transport me there … by whichever means is necessary.”

Attorney General Gary King is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

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