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1:20pm — Grand Jury To Probe Socorro Officials

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Panel will begin on Dec. 11 to investigate alleged wrongdoing.

A petition drive that began last fall calling for the investigation of Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker, City Clerk Pat Salome and former Police Chief Joel Haley culminated last week in a state district judge setting Dec. 11 as the starting date for a grand jury probe, Socorro's El Defensor Chieftain reported on its Web site.

Socorro City Councilor Gary Jaramillo, who filed a petition in September 2005 with local attorney Don Klein calling for the investigation, told the paper he was glad the state District Judge Kevin Sweazea called for the grand jury investigation.

But he objected to remarks attributed to Sweazea by Bhasker to the effect that a minority in city government were behind the petition and that the law had forced him to convene the grand jury, according to El Defensor Chieftain.

Bhasker told the paper that the petition drive was begun by a disgruntled city councilor who can't get anyone on his side.

According to a story from El Defensor Chieftain in September of last year, Jaramillo filed petitions with more than 300 signatures (including some 50 with addresses outside the city) alleging a series of "capital, felonious or infamous crimes," including misappropriation of funds, illegal manipulation of rules, using city money, employees and supplies in personal political campaigns and denial of constitutional rights to police officers.

Bhasker, who was re-elected as mayor last march with 55 percent of the vote, told El Defensor Chieftain at the time the petitions were filed that the allegations were "ridiculous" and that Jaramillo had even voted for some of the measures he was claiming were illegal.

"All I can say is consider the source," Bhasker said of Jaramillo last year. "I guess I'm supposed to say I deny all the allegations. And I do. It's just ridiculous. Sure, he got 300 signatures. I've been mayor now for 16 years. If I haven't made 300 people mad in that time, I haven't been doing my job."

Although 31 separate allegations were contained in the petition, Sweazea ordered the district attorney to sort through the allegations and decide which ones to take to the grand jury for investigation, El Defensor Chieftain reported over the weekend.

According to the state Constitution, a grand jury must be convened if at least 200 registered voters or 2 percent of the county's registered voters — whichever number is greater — validly sign peitions and a state judge determines whether there is sufficient cause, according to El Defensor Chieftain.

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