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AG launches records investigation into Doña Ana County emails

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Attorney General’s Office announced Monday it has launched a criminal investigation into the destruction of electronic records at the District Attorney’s Office in Doña Ana County two years ago, when then-incumbent District Attorney Amy Orlando was defeated by Mark D’Antonio.

David Pederson, general counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, says at a news conference Monday that the AG's office will investigate the destruction of electronic records in the district attorney's office in Doña Ana County. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

David Pederson, general counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, says at a news conference Monday that the AG’s office will investigate the destruction of electronic records in the district attorney’s office in Doña Ana County. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“There appears to be a concentrated, directed effort to do away with state and public records,” David Pederson, general counsel for the attorney general, said at a news conference in Albuquerque.

D’Antonio forwarded his investigation report on the destruction of records to Attorney General Gary King’s office last week. King is the Democratic nominee for governor. Orlando, a Republican, is now an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety.

“This is nothing more than a clumsy and amateur political stunt coordinated between a DA with what appears to be a personal vendetta and a gubernatorial candidate who’s just a few weeks away from an election,” said her boss, former U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt.

“It should not be lost on anyone that this DA recently revealed in a public document that he has been regularly meeting with and counseling a convicted felon who is soon to be sentenced for hacking into and stealing Amy’s personal emails, and the personal emails of numerous others, including the governor,” Fouratt said.

Fouratt, a Republican, is an appointee of Gov. Susana Martinez, who is seeking re-election in November.

Pederson brushed aside questions about whether his office had a conflict because King is seeking to unseat Martinez, who appointed Orlando to serve out the remainder of her term as DA after being elected governor in 2010. A Martinez campaign worker was present to video record the press conference in Albuquerque on Monday.

The announcement of the AG’s investigation follows the report submitted to King last week by D’Antonio – who like King is a Democrat – in which D’Antonio said emails had been destroyed before Orlando left office. The report offered no motive and said there were too many questions for criminal charges, but D’Antonio suggested the AG’s office could look into the matter further.

Fouratt, in his comments Monday, referred to the relationship between D’Antonio and former Martinez campaign manager Jamie Estrada. Estrada is scheduled to be sentenced next week for stealing emails sent to a Martinez campaign account that were subsequently used by political opponents of both Martinez and Orlando.

Estrada’s lawyers want him sentenced to no jail time, while prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of one year and a day.

D’Antonio has written a letter to U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson on Estrada’s behalf, in which he calls Estrada a friend who understands the consequences of his guilty plea. The letter does not ask for leniency.

D’Antonio, a former assistant U.S. attorney, called Estrada a “good and honest man who made a very serious error.”

Federal prosecutors said Estrada also plotted against Martinez allies, including Orlando.

Estrada “had joined in the effort to try to defeat” Orlando in the 2012 election, according to federal prosecutors. Some of Orlando’s emails were intercepted by Estrada.

Pederson on Monday said, “I don’t know any of the specifics of the Jamie Estrada case except what was in the media. We haven’t talked to the FBI yet.”

Referring to the destruction of emails in the DA’s office Doña Ana County, Pederson said there is no “target or suspect or person of interest” at this time and that the investigation would be handled by the attorney general’s staff.

“Just because there is an election doesn’t mean we stop doing our work,” Pederson said.

Earlier in the press conference, he said, “We feel there is no legal conflict of interest …”

King appeared briefly at the press conference, announcing that Pederson would head the investigation, then left after saying he had another meeting to attend.

Pederson said he would not specify what state statutes might have been violated and wouldn’t estimate how long the investigation might take. King leaves office in January.

“The current statutory scheme is not based on an electronics records system,” Pederson said.

Last week, Orlando said allegations of records being destroyed on her watch, amounted to “baseless innuendos and black-helicopter conspiracy theories.”

Pederson said the destruction of records went beyond simply erasing emails on individual computers and that computer hard drives were removed and the tapes on the antiquated backup system were erased.

Orlando has said she complied with state Inspection of Public Records Act. The AG’s policy under King is to purge emails after one year unless they are deemed among those required to be kept and archived.

State law doesn’t prohibit the destruction of electronic records unless they are required to be archived under the state Public Records Act, which is a different statute than the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Last week King’s gubernatorial campaign raised D’Antonio’s investigation as a campaign issue, criticizing Martinez in a press release and a fundraising email.

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