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Another year in prison for Griego

Former state Sen. Phil Griego appears in Second Judicial District Court in downtown Albuquerque on Monday. The ex-lawmaker was sentenced to an additional year in prison, though he may end up serving only half of that time (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Former state Sen. Phil Griego, whose long political career ended in 2015 under the cloud of a public corruption scandal, was sentenced Monday to an additional year in prison after pleading guilty to charges of pocketing money from his campaign account.

The ex-lawmaker is already in prison after being convicted last year of separate charges. He appeared in court in Downtown Albuquerque in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs – a far cry from his usual suit and cowboy hat attire.

District Judge Brett Loveless signed off on the plea deal prosecutors reached with Griego’s attorney and then imposed an additional year of prison time, which will be served after his current sentence ends later this year.

“Mr. Griego was trying to use the rules for his own financial benefit,” said Loveless, who said Griego’s acts had also undercut public trust in government.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office had asked the judge to impose an additional 18-month sentence on Griego, while the ex-lawmaker’s attorney had asked the judge to suspend the sentence.

“The state has already taken its pound of flesh,” said attorney Tom Clark, who suggested the Attorney General’s Office was seeking a stiffer sentence for Griego than it would have for an ordinary defendant.

He also said Griego would likely end up serving only six months of the additional sentence under day-for-day “good time” incentives. That could put his release date at sometime in May.

Griego, 70, a Democrat from rural San Miguel County, was sentenced in February to 18 months in prison and more than $47,000 in fines after being convicted of fraud, bribery and other corruption-related charges.

He is incarcerated at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, which has special units for elderly inmates and those in poor health.

Griego’s son died while he was in state custody, and his wife testified Monday that the ex-lawmaker decided not to attend the funeral service because he did not want to cause a spectacle.

“All we want is for this nightmare to end and for us to spend what time we have left together,” a tearful Janie Griego told the judge.

But prosecutors said Griego has never shown real remorse for his crimes, while describing the newer charges as proof of a calculated pattern of nefarious conduct.

“None of these crimes occurred in a vacuum,” said Assistant Attorney General Zach Jones. “He is singularly motivated by his own financial self-interest.”

The charges of perjury and embezzlement that Griego pleaded guilty to stem from his allegedly pocketing money from his campaign account and lying about it on campaign finance reports that are required by state law to be filed periodically by candidates.

Specifically, Griego is accused of improperly pocketing roughly $9,137 in campaign funds from 2012 through 2014 and lying about it repeatedly on the mandatory reports. 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.

As part of the judge’s order, Griego will have to repay the money in question, along with $2,500 in fines.

The Attorney General’s Office had investigated the allegations after receiving a 2016 referral from then-Secretary of State Brad Winter.

During Monday’s hearing, the judge asked Griego what advice he would give to aspiring public servants.

Griego said he would tell future lawmakers not to assume they know the rules and to reach out for guidance before acting.

“Make sure your constituents are proud of you, and you don’t damage your name or your family’s name,” Griego told the court. “You’ve got to remember one thing: You don’t own that seat.”

He also compared prison to a near-death experience, telling the judge: “You will never ever see my name or my face … in your courtroom again.”