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Attorney general seeking 10-year sentence for Griego

Former state Sen. Phil Griego. (Journal file)

SANTA FE – Attorney General Hector Balderas on Monday asked a district judge to sentence former state Sen. Phil Griego to 10 years in prison and the maximum allowable fines, arguing that doing so would deter future misconduct by New Mexico elected officials and “restore trust” among state residents.

Griego, 69, as convicted in November of several charges – including bribery, fraud and unlawful interest in a public contract – that stem from his time holding public office and will be sentenced by District Judge Brett Loveless on Friday.

In a sentencing memo filed Monday, Balderas argued Griego should be sentenced to 10 years in prison and then five years of mandatory parole after being released.

“The requested sentence will not only promote respect for the law and the seriousness of the offense, but also provide an effective deterrent through the application of a just punishment,” Balderas wrote in the memo, filed by top attorneys in his office.

Under the terms of his conviction, Griego could be sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison and $21,000 in fines.

In addition, the attorney general, a Democrat, asked the judge to consider levying more than $32,000 in additional fines stemming from legislative per diem, mileage and pension payments received by Griego.

That enhanced punishment is being sought under a 2012 law that allows a judge to fine convicted public officials up to the value of their salaries and “fringe benefits.”

Griego, a Democrat from rural San Miguel County, represented a sprawling Senate district for 18-plus years before resigning in 2015 instead of facing possible disciplinary action stemming from an internal ethics investigation.

The Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges in February 2016, and after a nearly three-week jury trial, Griego was convicted by a jury of five of the eight public corruption counts he was facing, including four felony charges. He was acquitted of the other three charges.

The charges stemmed from Griego’s pushing for legislation authorizing the 2014 sale of a historic state-owned building near the Roundhouse, concealing his involvement in the deal and ultimately pocketing a $50,000 commission as a real estate agent for the buyer.

The trial, which was the latest in a string of cases involving New Mexico elected officials, featured testimony from several sitting legislators, including Senate Democratic Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe. Wirth testified he would have tried to slow down the legislation authorizing the building sale if he had known about Griego’s conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Balderas also cited Griego’s behavior during trial and his criminal record – including two previous DWI convictions – in his Monday sentencing memo.

At one point during last year’s trial, the judge admonished Griego for talking to a witness in the case, real estate broker John Mahoney, outside the Santa Fe courthouse.

Griego has been free on his own recognizance since being found guilty last fall. If sentenced to 10 years behind bars, Griego could be nearly 80 years old at the time of his release.

His attorney, Tom Clark, did not immediately respond to questions Monday about the sentencing hearing.

Griego also faces separate public corruption charges – including perjury, fraud and embezzlement – for allegedly pocketing money from his campaign account and lying about it on required reports.

However, it’s unclear if the AG’s Office will move forward with that case.

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