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McCleskey lawyer: Grand jury over; no charges

Jay McClesky. (Journal file)

MCCLESKEY: Political adviser to governor

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

A federal grand jury investigation into Gov. Susana Martinez’s political adviser Jay McCleskey has ended with no criminal charges.

“We have been informed that the investigation has been terminated and no charges will be forthcoming.” McCleskey’s attorney, former state Supreme Court Justice Paul Kennedy, said in a Journal interview Friday.

The investigation, which became public in November, in part examined how money was raised and spent for Martinez’s 2010 inaugural celebration.

Martinez said in November that the complaints leading to the investigation were an attempt to smear her administration. She said she fully supported McCleskey and didn’t believe he did anything wrong.

The governor, who was out of state helping the campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, reiterated that position Friday.

“As I said, I was fully confident that Jay didn’t do anything wrong and that I trusted the system to look into baseless complaints and reject them,” she said in a statement. “I’m disappointed that some political opponents felt the need to leak misleading information about this in an effort to smear Jay, but I’m glad for him and his family that it’s over.”

In response to a question from the Journal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a statement that said: “As a matter of policy, Justice Department agencies, including the U.S. Attorney and FBI, may not comment on investigative matters.”

McCleskey, 41, has been a major player in getting Republicans elected in state and local elections. He headed Martinez’s successful 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races. Known for his aggressive, rough-and-tumble campaign tactics he has aroused the ire of Democrats – and some Republicans.

One former Martinez campaign staffer, Jamie Estrada, pleaded guilty in a federal prosecution after he stole emails from a campaign account and gave them to political operatives who disseminated them to Martinez opponents. Some of the emails were highly personal in nature.

Inaugural questions

The recent investigation was fueled in part by other disaffected Republicans, some of whom have been talking to FBI agents since at least 2013. Handling of inaugural money was an issue that was raised repeatedly.

Some people involved in the 2010 inauguration have complained that more than $100,000 in checks were issued without invoices showing what the money was spent on and that substantial amounts were paid to businesses controlled by McCleskey, including $40,000 for a video of the inauguration that may not have been produced, according to one former Martinez supporter interviewed by the FBI.

Martinez and her inaugural committee raised more than $960,000 in private donations and spent about $860,000. More than $100,000 was donated to SAFE houses throughout the state.

Most of the inaugural money was raised in donations of $25,000 and $10,000 from energy companies doing business in the state. The amounts contributed were well above the state’s campaign contribution limits of $5,000.

There don’t appear to be any rules governing donations or spending of inaugural committees.

Other matters

Federal agents over the years made inquiries into other controversies during the Martinez administration – with no charges forthcoming against anyone in the administration.

In 2012, FBI agents made inquiries about the contract between Expo New Mexico and the Downs at Albuquerque, interviewing former State Fair commissioners and others about the contract and campaign contributions.

At the same time federal investigators launched an investigation of Martinez’s campaign email account that was stolen by former campaign manager Estrada, who was eventually sentenced to prison for hijacking the campaign website and emails.

The emails that referenced the Downs racino contract were published by an anti-Martinez website and others were released by the Attorney General’s Office in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request by the Santa Fe Reporter.

Democrat and union political operative, Michael Corwin, who published some of the emails and asked for an investigation into the Downs deal said, “So far the only discussion centers around the inaugural which was not an investigation I pursued. As far as the Downs, I call on the Martinez administration to publicly request that the FBI release its entire investigation.”

The emails are also the subject of a federal civil lawsuit filed by several people whose emails to the campaign website were intercepted and disseminated. Defendants including Corwin and former state Democratic Party chairman Sam Bregman are accused of a conspiracy to publish the stolen emails.

The FBI has also sought records on Martinez administration matters that don’t appear to involve McCleskey, including records and computer reports from Martinez’s time as District Attorney for Doña County before she was elected governor in 2009 and from her successor and longtime friend Amy Orlando.

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