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Former state senator set to testify in trial

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Former state Sen. Phil Griego is expected to take the stand in his own defense today – an opportunity for him to explain to jurors how he ended up earning a $50,000 commission on the sale of a historic state building.

He would be the last witness in a three-week corruption trial that has already featured high-ranking lawmakers and other state officials called to testify about the inner workings of the New Mexico Legislature.

Tom Clark, an attorney for Griego, told the judge that “it’s anticipated” the former senator will take the stand this morning.

“The reason he would testify is that it’s important for the jury to hear his side of the story,” Clark said in an interview after the hearing. “They’ve heard part of the story.”

Prosecutors with the state Attorney General’s Office say Griego used his position as a senator in 2014 to push for the building sale and then pocket a commission as a real estate agent on the deal, while concealing his involvement from legislative colleagues. He is charged with violating laws on bribery, fraud and ethical misconduct.

Griego and his attorneys, in turn, say he committed no crime. He didn’t actually vote on the legislation authorizing the sale, and his role as a real-estate broker came about later – and not because he was a member of the Senate, they say.

Much of Monday’s time in court was dedicated to arguments over which of the eight charges should be decided by the jury.

Griego’s defense team urged District Judge Brett Loveless to grant acquittal on most of the charges – without sending them to the jury – because the state hadn’t proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Loveless, however, agreed to allow the charges to go forward.

Nonetheless, he agreed to make it clear to the jurors that they can consider actions by the defendant that occurred only within the statute of limitations.

Griego, a San Jose Democrat, resigned from the Senate in 2015 shortly after an ethics investigation by a legislative committee.

Jurors heard from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, on Monday as attorneys on both sides tried to pin down what, if anything, she knew about Griego’s involvement as a broker on the sale of the state building.

She said there was gossip after the legislative session that Griego was to earn a commission on the deal, around the time a planning commission was reviewing the sale. But she wasn’t sure precisely what was said or when.

“I had a heard a couple of people gossip that Sen. Griego was involved,” Papen said, “but I had no proof of that at all.”