U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson appeared to struggle between the seriousness of the crime and compassion for the defendant’s family in deciding on a nine-month prison sentence for Jamie Estrada, who hijacked Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign emails, gave them to her political opponents and lied to FBI agents about it.
Federal prosecutors agreed to cap Estrada’s sentence to one year and a day in prison while his attorneys were seeking probation and no jail time. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a prison sentence of more than two years.
In their plea for leniency, Estrada and his attorney said he is a deeply involved in caring for his brother, who needs a liver transplant for non-alcoholic late-stage liver disease.
Gov. Martinez appeared in court and asked for the maximum sentence prosecutors had approved – a year and a day.
“I’m here as a victim and not as governor,” she said. “I don’t know how many emails are out there. I truly believe this will never end.”
“I have no doubt my personal life has been invaded,” she said.
Estrada, once considered an up-and-comer in Republican Party circles, also spoke.
“I deeply apologize to Gov. Martinez and all the other people whose emails I intercepted,” Estrada said. “I hope that someday that those I hurt will forgive me.”
Estrada asked Johnson for mercy and compassion.
Johnson said that under normal circumstances he would have sentenced Estrada to 18 months for his guilty plea to two felonies, even after taking into consideration Estrada’s lack of any criminal past, and his history of public service.
“This scheme, it was sophisticated, well-planned and extended over almost a year,” Johnson said. “No one knows how many emails were stolen” by Estrada and distributed to others.
“It is sad, given such a stellar and impressive background, we’re here today to sentence the defendant on two felonies” Johnson said, noting Estrada’s two bachelor degrees from New Mexico State University and an MBA from Georgetown University.
“Most defendants I see are lucky to have a GED.”
But Johnson said he was also concerned that sending Estrada to prison would be more difficult for Estrada’s family than in most cases he sees.
“There is hardship that always results from incarceration,” Johnson said. But in this case, “the severity of the impact is more so than the typical defendant.”
He then sentenced Estrada to nine months in federal prison, three years of supervised release, 100 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine. Estrada’s computer will be monitored during the three-year period.
Estrada pleaded guilty to one count of intercepting an electronic communication and one count of lying to FBI agents.
Estrada was a former Martinez campaign manager. Prosecutors say he hijacked the emails and gave them to Martinez detractors because he was angry over being frozen out of the campaign and from any position in the administrations of Martinez or Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, also a Republican.
Estrada was charged in a 14-count indictment filed in May 2013. The first 12 counts of the indictment alleged that, from July 2011 to June 2012, Estrada unlawfully intercepted wire communication intended for individuals who had email accounts on an Internet domain owned by the governor’s campaign.
The final two counts charged Estrada with making false statements to the FBI in September 2012. The indictment subsequently was superseded in October 2013 and May 2014 to add two more false-statement charges.
“Each and every one of us has a right and an expectation of privacy in our electronic communications, including our emails, and individuals who violate the law by diverting, stealing or otherwise misappropriating our private communications should face serious consequences,” U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said.