Saturday, August 30, 2008
FBI Examines Richardson Donor's NM Contract
By Barry Massey
SANTA FE A California firm that contributed to Gov. Bill Richardson's political activities is under scrutiny by the FBI over a lucrative contract it won four years ago for the financing of a $1.6 billion state transportation program.
The FBI has requested documents from the New Mexico Finance Authority and interviewed former and current authority officials about the contract with the Beverly Hills-based firm, CDR Financial Products.
"They came in and asked me some questions, basically about procedures — how were the vendors chosen," William Fulginiti, a member of the authority's board, said Friday.
CDR was part of a team of banking, investment and financial advisers selected by the authority to put together a complex bond financing deal for a highway and transportation construction program that Richardson won legislative approval of in 2003.
The authority is a quasi-public agency that issues bonds and provides other financing to state and local governments for projects ranging from buildings to drinking water systems. The authority provided bond management services to the state Department of Transportation for the administration's highway construction program, which was called GRIP — Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership.
The authority issued a statement Friday saying it was "cooperating fully with federal authorities in their investigation of CDR Financial Products, Inc. in connection with the 2004 issuance of bonds for the GRIP transportation program."
Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Allan Ripp, a spokesman for CDR, said Friday the company was selected for the transportation financing contract through a competitive bidding process based on the firm's expertise.
"It has nothing to do with political contributions or patronage," said Ripp.
The Albuquerque Journal first reported the FBI probe of the state contract with CDR on Friday.
Ripp could not comment on whether CDR was the focus of a federal investigation over its New Mexico contract.
CDR and its CEO, David Rubin, have contributed at least $110,000 to three political committees formed by Richardson, according to a review of campaign finance records by The Associated Press.
The largest donation, $75,000, was made by CDR in June 2004 — a couple months after the transportation financing arrangement had won state approval — to a political committee that Richardson established before the Democratic National Convention that year. Richardson served as chairman of the convention in Boston and the committee, Si Se Puede! Boston 2004 Inc., helped pay convention expenses for Richardson's staff and supporters. The contribution was reported by the committee as coming from Chambers, Dunhill, Rubin and Co., a former name for CDR.
Rubin contributed $25,000 in late October 2003 — when the Legislature was debating the administration's transportation construction program — to another Richardson political committee, Moving America Forward. Rubin gave $10,000 to Richardson's re-election campaign in 2005.
Besides CDR, other companies involved with the transportation program financing contributed at least $65,000 to Richardson's political convention committee from May through July 2004.
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor, said Friday: "The governor's office is aware of questions surrounding some financial transactions at the New Mexico Finance Authority. We expect any state agency that is approached with questions to cooperate with federal officials."
The statement was released in response to questions by the AP whether Richardson or any of the governor's current or former staff members have been questioned by the FBI about the CDR contract or the political contributions the company and Rubin made to Richardson's political committees.
Amanda Cooper, who served as the governor's political director and managed his 2006 re-election campaign, was executive director of the convention political committee that received the $75,000 from CDR. That's according to a document filed by the committee when it was formed in early 2004.
Cooper did not return telephone calls Friday.
David Harris, who briefly served as Richardson's deputy chief of staff, was executive director of the New Mexico Finance Authority while it was working on the financing arrangement for the GRIP transportation program.
Harris told the Journal that he had been interviewed by FBI agents about CDR. A university spokesman on Friday said Harris was unavailable and referred questions to his lawyer, Paul Kennedy, who said his client "looks forward to a full and fair inquiry."
"I have seen no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of David Harris. I would be surprised if I ever do. His reputation and character are impeccable," said Kennedy.
Richardson orchestrated a management shake-up of the authority in 2003 that led to Harris becoming executive director. He left after being hired by the University of New Mexico in March 2004 as vice president for administration.
Fulginiti, executive director of the New Mexico Municipal League, said the FBI asked him about CDR but no other companies that were part of the transportation financing deal. He said authority staff evaluated the bids of firms and made recommendations to the authority board.
"We vetted it pretty well. It was a long process before we gave approval," he said.
The authority did not immediately release details of the contract with CDR and instead required the AP on Thursday to submit a public records request to try to obtain the information.
The company earned at least $951,000 in fees in 2004 for its financial services to the authority, according to a 2006 report by Bloomberg.com about CDR and Rubin and an IRS investigation into its work advising local governments on municipal bond deals.
Bill Sisneros, the current CEO of the authority, was out of the office and did not return a message left Friday on his cell phone.
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