The Real Side
Our attorney general discovers public corruption is a problem in New Mexico
Is Attorney General Patricia Madrid risking interference in the prosecution of former State Treasurer Robert Vigil just so she can look tough on public corruption in time for the Congressional election?
You’d think so. She’s announced she’s going after key witnesses against Vigil—former Treasurer Michael Montoya, businessman Angelo Garcia and former treasurer’s employee Leo Sandoval—by piling on a mountain of state charges. That means that whatever the deal they cut with the feds in exchange for their testimony, and whatever sentence they get from the federal judge, they face the prospect of additional decades in a state prison.
Let me state up front: They all deserve whatever they get ... and more. I hope Michael Montoya, who counted millions in kickbacks, never forgets how many steps it is across his cramped cell. May the shadowy Angelo Garcia, who facilitated corruption in Santa Fe spanning the terms of two state treasurers, appreciate the lessons of his second career scrubbing the grease pit in the prison kitchen. As for Leo Sandoval, who exposed the scheme only because he was miffed at his coconspirators, he can spend years exposed, without dignity or privacy, to anyone looking through the bars of his prison cell.
Nor do I fault Madrid for exploiting the mistake of criminal defense attorneys who let their clients admit state felonies in their federal testimony. Piling on legitimate charges is not prohibited by any code of prosecutorial conduct I’ve ever seen. For the money those attorneys have been paid, you’d think they would have tied down that loose end before it whipped their clients across the face.
But Patsy Madrid’s belated tough-on-public-corruption act rings false. First, she’s definitely messing with the feds’ case against Vigil. At the very least, she’s not cooperating. The feds can’t retry Vigil without testimony from Montoya, Garcia and Sandoval. By filing state charges now, before Vigil’s retrial, Madrid can’t be making it any easier for the U.S. attorney to work with these men and their lawyers.
A Madrid spokesperson defended her move, explaining that even if these men balk at testifying again, their previous testimony can be read to the jury in the second federal trial. Just imagine day after day of cold transcripts read out loud in a flat monotone.
The bailiffs will be busy poking jurors to keep them awake.
Second, Madrid’s explanation of her decision only feeds questions about her own commitment against public corruption. In a prepared statement, Madrid said, “From the sworn testimony of Michael Montoya, Angelo Garcia and Leo Sandoval, we see a history of complete disregard for the public trust and lack of professional responsibility.” Madrid spokesperson Sam Thompson said, “We treated their testimony as confessions to these crimes.”
That means Madrid must believe the testimony that these men engaged in years of graft, kickbacks and conspiracy. So why isn’t she doing something about Guy Riordan, whom Montoya testified kicked back about $100,000 in exchange for steering state investments his way?
Guy Riordan is a big-time political contributor who gives mostly to Democrats. The Albuquerque Journal wasted no time highlighting his support of Gov. Bill Richardson but has neglected to point out Riordan’s equally close connections to Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. Madrid was even embarrassed into returning contributions from Riordan.
There’s no principled reason for Madrid to ignore what Montoya said about Riordan shoveling cash his way. At the very least, she could investigate these very serious allegations with the powers of a grand jury or invite Riordan to refute Montoya while hooked up to a lie detector.
The third problem with Madrid’s newly found outrage is that it comes during an election, when the public’s BS sensors are fully charged.
During her two terms as AG, she turned a deaf ear to pleas from Albuquerque city councilors to investigate Mayor Chavez’ graft during the ABQPAC scandal (Guy Riordan also surfaced in that mess). Nor did she have a grand jury investigate the theft of guns, drugs and cash from the Albuquerque Police Department evidence room. In 1999, Gov. Gary Johnson begged her to look into the enormous sums Montoya was paying the investment adviser who is now a central figure in the criminal case. And there’s that very curious disappearing memorandum from the state investment oversight committee telling Madrid something stunk in the treasurer’s handling of state investments. Madrid says she never received the memo, but memos like that don’t simply vanish.
Madrid says she’s not ready to pursue Vigil, though she’s been handed a ready-made case. But she can’t wait to go after the witnesses against him. So what’s the real story here? Has our attorney general finally discovered that public corruption is a serious problem in New Mexico, or does Patsy simply need a few patsies to score some points in time for the election?
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.