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‘Castle House’ goes up in flames

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Almost 10 years after a corrupt New Mexico senator’s political career went up in flames, his house has followed suit.

Bernalillo County firefighters spent much of Wednesday evening extinguishing a massive blaze at Manny Aragon’s unfinished South Valley mansion, known locally as the “Castle House.”

Aragon, 71, served as a Democratic senator in the state before being convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to several years in prison. The now-charred “Castle House” remained in his name.

Attempts to reach Aragon on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The home of former state Sen. Manny Aragon in 2013. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Bernalillo County Fire Rescue spokesman David Lujan said firefighters showed up around 7:30 p.m. to find the 5,000-square-foot home at Second and Camino Cuatro SW engulfed in flames.

He said crews used a “surround and drown” technique to extinguish the blaze and nobody was injured. One firefighter and two neighbors were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

The fire is “suspicious,” but the cause is still under investigation, Lujan said.

“At this point, we don’t have any evidence that’s leading to one cause or another,” he said.

Fire crews were still working at the home Thursday afternoon to monitor the structure and eliminate hot spots.

“If it means we got to be here another 24 hours,” Lujan said. “We’ll be here for another 24 hours to make sure nothing reignites.”

Once a powerful state senator from Albuquerque, Aragon pleaded guilty in October 2008 to one count of conspiracy and two counts of mail fraud in a Metropolitan Courthouse construction scandal that siphoned off more than $4 million from the court construction project.

While a senator, Aragon secured state money for various aspects of the courthouse project.

He admitted stealing more than $600,000, which he received from an engineer who helped arrange a system of fraudulent overbillings on the courthouse’s audiovisual system.

Bernalillo County Fire Department officials investigate Thursday after a fire engulfed former New Mexico Sen. Manny Aragon’s house in the South Valley. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Aragon had been involved in almost every phase of the courthouse construction, including selecting the architect.

Aragon served in the state Senate from 1975 to 2004, when he left to become president of New Mexico Highlands University, a job he held for two years.

He began serving his federal prison term in June 2009 and was released from a federal prison in Colorado in December 2013.

The South Valley home owned by Aragon was removed from the tax rolls in 2008 after he filed a protest, according to Bernalillo County.

But it was put back on the tax rolls by June 2013. According to records, at that time, the home lacked heating, cooling, flooring, bathrooms and a kitchen, based on notes taken by appraisers during a 2008 visit. It also had a leaky roof, according to the file.

Journal investigative reporter Mike Gallagher and photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis contributed to this report.

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