The gatekeeper to NM’s political machine
“Corruption in New Mexico has reached the level of epidemic, and is in all forms of government.” Don’t take my word for it; take it from recently retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Tom McClenaghan, who concluded that our state might just be the most corrupt in the nation.
Of course, corruption is not limited to one political party in New Mexico. Corruption is simply a seed planted in the minds of too many career politicians that sprouts in the soil of greed, pride and the fear of being replaced. Those involved exchange their honor for bribes, their integrity for money, and their convictions for dealings in bad-faith.
The silver lining is that we do have many honest people working hard in government on both sides of the aisle. However, they seem to be the exception in New Mexico and their good works are often buried by corruption headlines.
The bottom line: Corruption has triumphed before our very eyes.
The gatekeeper’s record
After reviewing Attorney General Gary King’s record over the last four years a quote comes to mind: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Attorney General Gary King has acted as the gatekeeper to a political machine that will go down in the books as perhaps the most scandalous in our history. Accordingly, one would think every corruption headline would have been followed by an accountability headline. Not the case – not even close.
Let’s examine the record and see if it warrants re-election for the gatekeeper.
First case up involves former state treasurer Michael Montoya, whose indictment was obtained by Attorney General Patricia Madrid before she left office. The indictment charged Montoya with orchestrating a campaign of bribes and kickbacks that rocked the state treasurer’s office. In 2007, King resolved this case by entering into an agreement with Montoya to plead guilty to one felony count of racketeering in exchange for dismissing 15 others. Following this deal, King stated he was “pleased” with the results and that his office had “sent a message that they will pursue whatever actions are necessary to protect the public trust.”
Fast forward to the Roberta Vigil case. This is the only corruption case King has initiated and resolved within his four-year term as AG. Vigil was convicted of two felonies after blowing thousands of school money on a party. This convicted criminal was facing more than four years in prison, but when it was all said and done she walked out of the courtroom with probation and no time behind bars.
Despite the meek sentence, King’s response was that he again was “pleased” and “sending a message that misuse of public monies will be prosecuted by this office and this type of behavior will not be tolerated by the people of New Mexico.”
It doesn’t appear the message King is sending is a deterrent to those involved in public corruption, perhaps because the consequences don’t outweigh the benefits.
In April 2009, the AG’s office obtained indictments against Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. and his father for misusing $1,000 in campaign contributions. In February of this year, a district judge dismissed half of the charges, ruling that Attorney General Gary King had overstepped his authority with the indictments. King appealed the decision, and, 16 months later the case is still pending without resolution and Block, Jr. continues to draw a hefty state paycheck.
Then we have the indictments against Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos in the Region III housing authority scandal. King received pressure to move on this drawn-out investigation, and finally indicted the case in June 2009. Since then, King has been uncharacteristically mum on this case. Here we are, over a year later, and there still is no trial date and, therefore, no resolution. One has to wonder whether this case will go away quietly after the election.
Finally, we learned in August 2009 that former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron was indicted for a scandal involving the mismanagement of millions of federal dollars allocated to the “Help America Vote Act.” Following the indictments, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General said, “we will be doing our talking in the court.” Many, including Vigil-Giron, are still waiting for that promise. Trial was scheduled to begin last week, but has since been postponed until long after the election.
Once again, no resolution or justice for New Mexico. One is left to wonder whether this case, too, will fade into the shadows if King is re-elected.
So what does that leave under King’s belt after New Mexico gave him four-years in the Attorney General’s Office during an era of corruption at epidemic levels? A grand total of one plea of guilty in exchange for 15 dismissals, a conviction that led to probation, a case on appeal after a judge dismissed half the charges due to mistakes made by the Attorney General, and a couple of postponed cases to be decided long after New Mexico’s 2010 election. Some message.
All bark, no bite
King keeps saying he is going to “send a message that misuse of public monies will be prosecuted by (the) office and this type of behavior will not be tolerated by the people of New Mexico.”
King has had a silver platter opportunity to go for the gusto and prosecute those responsible for bad-faith investments of over $200 million dollars in New Mexico’s retirement funds. However, New Mexico employees and teachers are left to rely on New York’s Attorney General to stay updated on New Mexico’s most historical and corrupt pay-to-play scandal yet.
Relying on New York to conduct the business of our state attorney general’s office is no way to send a message.
Literally, New Mexico cannot afford four more years of an attorney general, or a gatekeeper, who is going to look the other way while the entrenched establishment picks the pockets of New Mexico’s taxpayers. Over the last four years – with AG King in the driver’s seat – we have all been witnesses to one corruption headline after the other, many of which have implicated the highest office in this state. Yet despite his message, AG King has not been a threat to those who would give in to the allure of corruption.
It would appear that he is more interested in protecting his friends than he is New Mexico.
A call for change
As a career prosecutor, I don’t take lightly my tasks ahead as this state’s next attorney general. I know what it takes to get an indictment because I’ve been successfully prosecuting criminals my entire career.
And that is the problem with AG King. Right now, all we basically have are a handful of indictments, all of which have hit major roadblocks with no resolution in sight. And none of the indictments are really directed at the heart of the problem or the major culprits. It’s what we call attention diversion.
My philosophy, on the other hand, is that justice in this state must be swift and the blows must be heavy to end corruption. That is the only message that will ever gain any traction.
In my career as a prosecutor and two-term district attorney, I have successfully convicted over 30 defendants involved in homicides. As a special appointed assistant united states attorney, I assisted federal prosecutors in dismantling the New Mexico Aryan Brotherhood, an organized white supremacist gang in the business of committing violent crimes and drug trafficking. I removed a Republican County Treasurer for falsifying public records and made her forfeit her salary back to the taxpayers as restitution.
One of my greatest honors was receiving the New Mexico Law Enforcement Prosecutor of the Year Award in 2006 for my ability to work with law enforcement officers throughout the state to bring justice to victims.
I am not touting my experience out of false pride; I share it only because it’s the kind of experience we need if we want to shake the stigma of being one of the most corrupt states in the nation.
For too long, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has been used to push – or at least not impede – a political agenda, and the real job of protecting the people of New Mexico has been ignored. My commitment is to put people above politics and to root out corruption. By doing this, the respectable public servants in both parties can advance our state in all the areas that matter, whether they involve the economy, schools or public safety.
I am asking you to judge me on my record of achievement – not mere activity, but the results of my work. Mine is a record earned by confronting public corruption head-on and holding wrongdoers accountable.
As a prosecutor, I am often reminded of Edmund Burke’s famous quote, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Make no mistake about it, corruption has permeated our state, having a devastating impact on our economy and eroding public confidence in our government. It’s time we do something about it.
It’s time for a change in New Mexico, and I am asking people all across the state to give change in the Attorney General’s Office a chance.
Chandler is the Republican candidate for attorney general.