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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Prosecution Aggressively Preparing for 2nd Vigil Trial
By Scott Sandlin
Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
The gloves are coming off.
As the federal retrial of former state treasurer Robert Vigil on public corruption charges looms closer, prosecution motions are flying thick and fast.
Prosecutors have asked the court to set new rules for the second round, which begins in Albuquerque on Sept. 5. The retrial became necessary when a jury hearing the case in May failed to reach agreement on any count, and a mistrial was declared.
The new trial, before a new judge, is expected to last five weeks or more. Vigil is charged with taking over the reins of a kickback scheme established by his predecessor, Michael Montoya, that involved receiving kickbacks from commissions an investment adviser received for placing state investments.
In the wake of the first trial, prosecutors are moving aggressively. The prosecution has made several requests:
If the defense elicits comments about what a great guy Vigil is, it's OK for the government to call rebuttal witnesses "who will testify that (Vigil) has a reputation as a dishonest politician and man of low integrity."
Character evidence isn't generally permitted at trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonnathan Gerson acknowledges in a different motion. But he says if the defense opens the door to such testimony as it did in the first trial, prosecutors should be permitted to do the same.
Specifically, the government will want to ask about allegations that Vigil, while state auditor, required CPAs seeking state contracts to donate to a political or charitable organization of his choosing, Gerson wrote.
Prosecutors want to bar the defense from asking during cross-examination how much money certain witnesses earn.
They are asking U.S. District Judge James O. Browning to keep lead defense attorney Sam Bregman from invoking Vigil's grandson or Vigil's rural upbringing in a large family both characterized as bids for juror sympathy. Both came up during opening statements in the first trial.
The grandchild motion notes that Bregman, during his opening statement in the first trial, told the jury the FBI essentially threatened Vigil by allegedly telling him that if he didn't answer questions, "he would never see his grandson again."
At trial, the defense failed to produce any evidence to support that claim, Gerson said in court documents. Two FBI agents at trial denied asking Vigil about his grandson.
"When I did that interview, I didn't even know that he had a grandson," one agent testified.
'Petty and vindictive'
Prosecutors also have given notice that since Bregman won't agree beforehand to the admission of government exhibits and there are many they won't agree to leave Bregman's name out of FBI undercover tapes where he's mentioned as a Democratic party fundraiser "an officer of a political party organization," as the motion words it.
Bregman's name was redacted from tape transcripts used in the previous trial.
"I think that specific document is an example of how desperate, petty and vindictive the prosecution is becoming in this case," Bregman said Tuesday. "They are trying to make sure the jury knew I was vice chair of the Democratic Party at one point. How in the world would that go to whether Robert Vigil is guilty of any crime?"
Bregman said it appears the prosecution is attacking him because its case is insufficient to convict his client.
"Unfortunately ... it's becoming more and more apparent this prosecution is about politics," he said.