Thursday, September 06, 2007
Ex-Treasurer Pleads Guilty in State Corruption Case
By Barry Massey/
SANTA FE Former state Treasurer Michael Montoya pleaded guilty Thursday to a state felony charge of racketeering for his role in a kickback scheme he testified about in the federal government's prosecution of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil.
Montoya, 55, entered the plea agreement in state district court in Santa Fe.
He will testify for the state in its prosecution of other defendants facing state charges stemming from the corruption in the treasurer's office.
Montoya will be sentenced Nov. 1, and could receive up to nine years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Montoya was a key witness for federal prosecutors in Vigil's two trials. The first ended in a mistrial. When retried, he was convicted of one count of attempted extortion and was acquitted on 23 extortion and racketeering counts. He is serving a 37-month sentence in a federal prison in Texas.
Montoya, a Democrat, served as treasurer in 1995-2002. Vigil was deputy treasurer during part of Montoya's tenure, and succeeded him in that office in 2003.
Shortly after Vigil's first trial last year, then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid brought state charges against Montoya and three others Albuquerque businessman Angelo Garcia, California-based investment adviser Kent Nelson and former treasurer's office employee Leo Sandoval based on their testimony in that trial.
Garcia, Sandoval and Nelson have pleaded not guilty to the more than 30 state charges against each of them. They have trials scheduled in state court later this year.
"I believe this will help to restore public confidence in state government and send the message that my office will continue to pursue whatever actions are necessary to protect the public trust,'' Attorney General Gary King said in a statement.
In his testimony in federal court, Montoya described how he demanded kickbacks from investment investors who helped arrangement bids on certain investments. He also said he received cash payments from security brokers and dealers who offered bids to the state for investments in government agency securities.
Federal prosecutors alleged the "pay to play'' scheme continued when Vigil became treasurer. Vigil's defense disputed that and contended that some payments to Vigil were campaign contributions.
Montoya had faced 16 state criminal charges, including soliciting or receiving illegal kickbacks and receiving or demanding bribes. Last year, a district judge entered a not guilty plea on Montoya's behalf when he appeared at his arraignment.
Under the agreement with prosecutors, Montoya pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and all other charges against him were dismissed. There was no agreement on sentencing, however.
The state prosecution had come under criticism from defense lawyers, who said state government rarely brought charges against witnesses for criminal activities they testified about while cooperating in a federal case.
Vigil was not charged last year in the state's corruption prosecution because he faced a second trial in federal court and the attorney general's office said it didn't want to interfere with the retrial.
But because of the state prosecution, Nelson refused to testify for federal prosecutors in Vigil's retrial. Nelson invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination in the pending state criminal prosecution as the reason for not testifying again in federal court.
Nelson had pleaded guilty to a federal charge of mail fraud punishable by up to 20 years in prison as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in Vigil's corruption case. He hasn't been sentenced.
In the federal case, Sandoval was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony in Vigil's trial. Montoya and Garcia pleaded guilty to a federal felony.
Montoya hasn't been sentenced yet. Garcia, a middleman in the kickback scheme with Montoya and Vigil, has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
In a separate state case, Garcia was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding senior citizens who invested in a failed real estate project. He is to serve the state sentence concurrently with the federal prison time.
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