Sunday, February 20, 2011
Richardson Aide Got Help From Correras
By Mike Gallagher
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Investigative Reporter
At the same time Marc Correra was getting paid millions of dollars in fees for helping secure investments from two state agencies run by Gov. Bill Richardson appointees, he was in business with Richardson's presidential campaign manager and former chief of staff, Dave Contarino.
The payment of those so-called third party placement fees to Correra, along with decisions by the State Investment Council and Educational Retirement Board about which companies would get the state business that generated them, figure prominently in ongoing federal regulatory and criminal investigations.
They also are an issue in a separate civil lawsuit alleging New Mexico taxpayers were defrauded through pay-to-play schemes involving the investment funds.
The business deal between Marc and Claudia Correra and Dave Contarino and Linda Marquette-Contarino was struck in spring 2007 — at the same time Richardson's unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was ramping up.
The Contarinos are the only people listed as members in Zan LLC on Public Regulation Commission filings in April 2007.
In June 2007, Zan LLC secured a line of credit for up to $720,000 from State National Bank in Las Cruces, and the Contarinos and Correras signed individually and as members of Zan.
Linda Marquette-Contarino told the Journal last week that she and her husband were unaware at the time that Marc Correra was receiving placement fees related to state investment business.
Richardson did not respond to a Journal question about whether he was aware of the business dealings between the Contarinos and the Correras.
The line of credit was secured by a mortgage on property at 2802 Doral Court in Las Cruces, the offices for Bueno Title and Escrow Co., which according to state records is owned by Dave Contarino and his wife, Linda Marquette-Contarino.
Documents on file with the Doña Ana County Clerk's Office show liens against the property could not exceed $720,000 and reference a promissory note for $360,000 from the bank.
Marquette-Contarino also confirmed that she and her husband received financial backing for the title company business from Anthony Correra, Marc's father and a key Richardson insider who helped bring State Investment Officer Gary Bland to the Richardson administration.
Bland was a key decision-maker in the process of which firms would get state investment business.
Bland resigned in the face of a no-confidence vote triggered in part by the placement fees Marc Correra began receiving as early as 2004. The fees didn't become public until April 2009 when the State Investment Council released the information in response to a Journal records request.
Contarino forwarded an e-mail request for a Journal interview to his wife, who responded by asking that all questions be directed to her by e-mail.
Marquette-Contarino said in a subsequent response to those questions that she was the founder and managing member of Bueno Title and Escrow.
In her e-mail, Marquette-Contarino said that in 2007 she was looking to expand her Santa Fe title company business to Las Cruces.
"I was looking to expand to Las Cruces and approached a few individuals for support, including Anthony Correra, who I had known for a few years.
"Anthony agreed to provide a small business loan to help get the company started. He arranged financing through L2, which, he explained to me, was a Trust for the benefit of his two grandsons (Lorenzo and Luca, I believe, therefore the name "L2") with their father, Marc Correra, as trustee."
She said the line of credit with the Las Cruces bank was paid off two years ago with no money from the Correras.
"At that time, we bought out the Correras, immediately after we first learned, through public media reports, of Marc Correra's work with New Mexico state investments. Before that, my husband and I had absolutely no knowledge of Marc Correra's activities," she said.
She said she continues to manage the business and has worked hard to maintain a small business in a tough real estate market.
Attorneys for both Correras said they had no comment.
Dave Contarino managed Richardson's campaign for governor in 2002 and served as his chief of staff until resigning in April 2006. He managed Richardson's re-election campaign that year and the presidential campaign launched in January 2007.
Richardson officially dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in January 2008 after disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The bank filed a release of the Contarino/Correra mortgage in June 2009 — after Marc Correra's role in helping financial firms secure almost $1 billion from the State Investment Council and Educational Retirement Board became public.
Contarino was named in two civil lawsuits filed that same year by the former chief investment officer for the teacher's pension fund, Frank Foy, who claimed Contarino and Correra were part of a massive pay-to-play scheme involving state investments. Both men denied Foy's claims, which are pending in state courts.
One of Foy's lawsuits pegs the state's losses in one series of investments at $250 million.
When news of Correra's fees first surfaced, a spokesman said Richardson didn't know Correra was receiving fees from firms getting state investments.
Bland, however, acknowledged that he knew fees were being paid and was aware Marc Correra was a third-party marketer. Bland has also acknowledged that he and Anthony Correra, a former New York stockbroker who surrendered his license, frequently discussed investments.
The fees are akin to "finders" fees and it isn't clear exactly what third-party marketers did to earn them.
Bland's staff has said it didn't know about Marc Correra's role as a placement agent.
The New Mexico investigations stem from a New York attorney general probe of third-party marketers and pay-to-play deals involving the New York Common Pension Fund.
That investigation led to the guilty plea of financial adviser Saul Meyer in October 2009.
Meyer's company, Aldus Equity of Dallas, was an adviser to the New York pension fund, the New Mexico State Investment Council and the ERB.
Meyer acknowledged in his plea deal that he recommended investments "that were pushed on me by politically connected individuals in New Mexico.
"I did this knowing that these politically connected individuals or their associates stood to benefit financially or politically from the investments and that the investments were not necessarily in the best economic interest of New Mexico."
Meyer has not been sentenced and according to court records is cooperating with federal investigators.
A few weeks after Meyer's guilty plea, Bland resigned in the face of a no confidence vote from an SIC subcommittee.
Bland served on the boards of several charities in Santa Fe with Marc Correra.
Dave Contarino wasn't the only Richardson insider with financial connections to the Correras.
In September the Journal reported that then-chairman of the ERB Bruce Malott had borrowed $350,000 from Anthony Correra through a trust fund set up for a son Correra fathered outside his marriage.
Malott, who resigned the day he was interviewed by the Journal about the loan, said he was unaware that Marc Correra was receiving fees from firms getting ERB investments. He said he borrowed the money from the elder Correra because he viewed him as a close personal friend.
His attorney, Gregg Fallick, provided the Journal a report showing Malott passed a polygraph examination. Malott has also been interviewed by attorneys from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Malott served as Richardson's treasurer for his gubernatorial campaigns and was reappointed to the pension board by Richardson.