Thursday, August 20, 2009
Ex-Secretary of State Vigil-Giron, 3 others charged with laundering millions.
FOR THE RECORD: The Armando Gutierrez indicted this week with former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is not a Miami-based political consultant, as reported in Thursday's Journal. The Armando Gutierrez, 61, who was indicted worked in New Mexico as a consultant to Democratic candidates in New Mexico and now lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. The Miami-based Armando Gutierrez is a political consultant to Republican candidates and many charities in the Miami area. He had nothing to do with the Secretary of State's Office in New Mexico and has not been indicted. He sponsors heart surgeries for children from Haiti and won a community leadership award from the FBI.
By Scott Sandlin And Mike Gallagher
Journal Staff Writer
Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, along with a Democratic Party consultant and two lobbyists, was named Wednesday in a sweeping public corruption indictment charging the four with laundering millions of dollars meant for a voter education campaign.
Vigil-Giron, consultant Armando Gutierrez and lobbyists Elizabeth "Daisy" Kupfer and Joseph Carl Kupfer were indicted on 50 counts each, including conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement and 11 counts of money laundering over $100,000.
The four are named in separate indictments filed Wednesday afternoon in Bernalillo County District Court by Assistant Attorneys General Ann Badway and Chris Lackmann.
Among the lengthy list of charges is making or permitting false public vouchers, making or taking kickbacks and tampering with evidence. The evidence tampering charge stems from a "memorandum" allegedly "fabricated" sometime before April 2007 and backdated to Sept. 2, 2004, with the intent of avoiding prosecution.
Vigil-Giron, a Democrat, denied the allegations Wednesday, and her attorney vowed to fight the charges.
"Rebecca never took a dime of public money," Vigil-Giron's attorney, Robert Gorence, said Wednesday.
"Everything she did was approved by the Attorney General's Office, the Taxation and Revenue Department and the Department of Finance and Administration."
Gorence said the election funds produced 43,000 ad spots to educate New Mexico voters. He promised there would not be a plea in the case and pledged to bring the case to trial as quickly as possible.
The alleged conspiracy stretched from August 2004 to April 2007.
The indictment describes vouchers involving proceeds of a fraud drawn on the state treasury and deposited to Gutierrez's Wells Fargo bank account between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, 2004; $1 million on Oct. 19, 2004; $2 million in July 2005; $1.5 million in August 2005; $1.7 million in May 2006; and $1 million in June 2006.
Gutierrez later wrote checks to the Kupfers in amounts ranging from $30,000 to $186,000, the proceeds of illegal activity, that were deposited in their First Community Bank account, according to the indictment.
The indictments were handed up by a grand jury that worked into the night Monday and Tuesday, hearing evidence from witnesses including Vigil-Giron. Former Elections Bureau chiefs Hoyt Clifton and Denise Lamb and pollster and consultant Brian Sanderoff were among those who were called to testify.
The charges relate to the office's use of federal election monies under the Help America Vote Act, but the precise prosecution theory is not laid out in the indictment.
Audits have found problems with accounting for election education money.
Gutierrez's New Mexico firm was hired by Vigil-Giron in 2004 to handle a statewide voter education campaign, but an audit by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission found that Gutierrez, 61, was only able to substantiate $2.6 million of the $6 million campaign.
"Today's indictments are the result of more than two years of investigation by my Government Accountability Division," Attorney General Gary King said through a spokesman. "We will now concentrate on proving these allegations in a court of law."
Attorney Jason Bowles, who represents Joe Kupfer, said he believes the Attorney General's Office "has a serious conflict of interest in this case. We have raised those issues prior to indictment. We intend to raise those issues with the court as soon as we can."
J. Miles Hanisee said he wouldn't have any comment until he can review the indictment with Gutierrez.
Attorney Hank Farrah called the indictment "overkill."
"It makes the case overly complex and difficult to try," he said, but declined further comment until he talks to his client, Elizabeth Kupfer, 47.
The charges of conspiracy and money laundering over $100,000 carry potential sentences of 9 years. Other counts carry charges from a year to 18 months, plus fines.
Vigil-Giron, 54, is a Taos native who served three terms as secretary of state, peppered by controversies from election problems to federally funded voter education ads that critics charged were politically motivated.
She served from 1987 to 1990 and was re-elected to two terms beginning in 1997. She was blocked from seeking re-election by term limits laws.
She has run for Congress twice. In 1990, she lost to one-term incumbent Republican Steve Schiff. She lost the Democratic primary to Martin Heinrich, now the incumbent U.S. representative, in 2008.
She was the executive director of the New Mexico Commission on the Status on Women from 1990 to 1993 and later served as chief clerk to the then-State Corporation Commission.
Vigil-Giron most recently has been at the Department of Workforce Solutions.
She declined to speak to a Journal reporter during a break in the grand jury proceedings this week but released a lengthy statement Wednesday.
In that statement, Vigil-Giron said, "I can account for every last nickel that was spent on this Voter Education Project." She said audits showed she used voter education money appropriately and accused King of attacking her.
All the contracts in question were approved by assistant attorney generals and all vouchers were approved by either the Attorney General's Office or the Department of Finance and Administration, she said in the statement.
"I pray every day that my Lord and my God will forgive those individuals who so willingly, callously and wrongfully accuse me of unsubstantiated wrongdoing," her statement said.