AG's Office says ex-senator may have had slush fund - Albuquerque Journal

AG’s Office says ex-senator may have had slush fund

FOR THE RECORD: The name of the county Sen. Phil Griego is from has been corrected in this story.

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is digging deeper into the finances of former state Sen. Phil Griego, with an AG’s Office investigator saying in a court filing this week that there is reason to believe Griego may have improperly pocketed money from his campaign account by setting up a political committee to serve as a slush fund of sorts.

Griego, who resigned from the Senate in 2015 under the cloud of an ethics scandal, is facing criminal charges related to his role in the sale of a historic state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe.

GRIEGO: Resigned, faces criminal counts
GRIEGO: Resigned, faces criminal counts

But even with the longtime former lawmaker already facing trial, the AG’s Office has continued scrutinizing Griego’s bank accounts to determine whether he might have misused campaign funds.

In the latest development, AG Office investigator Mark Pinto obtained a search warrant from a district judge this week – the third search warrant in the case in the past two months – that authorized him to review bank records associated with the political committee, which was called Advance New Mexico.

While the political committee never reported receiving or spending any money, the AG’s Office investigator said a previous review of Griego’s bank records show Griego issued a $4,000 check in 2013 from his own campaign account to the political committee. Griego, who was allegedly a cosignatory on the political committee’s bank account, withdrew nearly $2,800 from the account roughly eight months later, according to the court filing.

The investigator also said in his affidavit that the check represented one of 43 instances since 2012 in which checks from Griego’s campaign fund were not reported on campaign spending forms that are required to be filed periodically by candidates under state law.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office already had been investigating whether Griego might have misused campaign funds reportedly spent on office space, constituent meetings and more after he resigned from the Legislature in March 2015.

Griego’s attorney, Tom Clark, did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about the latest AG’s Office search warrant.

Meanwhile, James Hallinan, a spokesman for the AG’s Office, said the investigation stems from a referral from Secretary of State Brad Winter’s office about possible violations of the state Campaign Reporting Act.

“This is an ongoing investigation of a referral received from the secretary of state in April of 2016,” Hallinan said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Griego, a Democrat from rural San Miguel County, is facing counts of bribery, perjury and violating his oath of public office that stem from allegations he used his position as a legislator to pocket a $50,000 broker’s fee in the 2014 real estate deal.

Griego has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorney has argued the state has not shown evidence to back up its charges. A trial date has not been set in the case, and Griego remains free on his own recognizance.

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