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New corruption charges filed on former legislator

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Former New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego

SANTA FE – Former New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego is facing a slew of additional public corruption charges, after a grand jury indicted him on perjury, fraud and embezzlement counts for allegedly pocketing money from his campaign account and lying about it on required reports.

If convicted of all 22 of the newly filed charges, all but three of which are felonies, Griego could face up to 30 years in prison and $98,000 in fines.

The longtime Democratic legislator is already facing trial later this year on separate charges stemming from an allegation that he used his former legislative position to pocket a $50,000 broker’s fee in the 2014 sale of a historic state-owned building.

He has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is free on his own recognizance.

A spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas confirmed the new charges Tuesday and said the AG’s Office had filed a motion to join those charges with the case already headed to trial.

However, Tom Clark, a Santa Fe attorney who is representing Griego, said he would seek to have the new charges tried separately from the previous ones.

He also questioned the amount of resources the Attorney General’s Office has dedicated to the case – which he described as “white-collar” in nature – in a state that has one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates.

“It seems to me the public would be better-served if the AG’s Office were to focus on crimes that are really hurting people instead of piling on Phil Griego,” Clark said.

Griego, 68, who lives in rural San Miguel County, represented a sprawling Senate district for more than 18 years before resigning from the Senate in March 2015 under the cloud of an ethics investigation.

He said at the time of his resignation that he was unaware of the constitutional provision against lawmakers profiting off legislation passed during their terms but insisted he did not think he was doing anything wrong.

Even with Griego already facing trial, investigators with the AG’s Office have in recent months scrutinized Griego’s bank accounts – with the help of court-approved search warrants – in an attempt to determine whether he may have misused campaign funds.

The latest inquiry was based on a 2016 referral from then-Secretary of State Brad Winter, and apparently led to the additional charges, which were filed in state District Court in Santa Fe.

The new charges claim Griego improperly pocketed roughly $9,137 in campaign funds from 2012 through 2014 and lied about it repeatedly on campaign finance reports that are required by state law to be filed periodically by candidates. In at least one instance, the AG’s Office believes Griego got money from his campaign account by setting up a political committee to serve as a slush fund of sorts.

Meanwhile, another misdemeanor charge alleges he spent $1,400 in campaign funds on vehicle maintenance – five months after he resigned from the Senate.

Griego is expected to waive an arraignment hearing on the new charges. His trial on the previous charges is scheduled to begin in October.

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