The Real Side
The Belly of the Beast
Live, from the Robert Vigil corruption trial
I’m sitting in on the Robert Vigil trial. In a room full of blue suits and starched collars, the image that comes to mind is the glow of a colonoscopy monitor. Watching the tracks of dirty money in the guts of a corrupt state government isn’t much different from watching a barium enema work its way through the tail end of the human digestive system.
I’m now listening to Michael Montoya, former state treasurer, calmly explain how he pocketed millions in kickbacks from investment brokers. He speaks with unabashed authority about rigging bids so hundreds of millions of dollars of state investments went to the crooked brokers in on his racket.
Two days ago I heard about Angelo Garcia, a bag man for both Montoya and Vigil, who ripped off old people for nearly a million dollars while he was a cooperating witness for the FBI. He even grabbed kickback money for himself, right under the nose of his G-men handlers. He was such an inveterate sleazeball, the FBI marooned him in Fargo, N.D., so the whole investigation wouldn’t turn septic.
Leo Sandoval wrapped up the second week of testimony. As a Treasurer’s employee, he kept records of years of kickbacks. Sandoval also had time as a public employee to counterfeit tens and twenties, I guess to fill in downtime between payoffs.
And there sits the subject of this whole disgusting affair, Robert Vigil. He faces racketeering and extortion charges carrying sentences that could put him away for the rest of his life. But he’s rolling the dice rather than settle for less jail time with a plea to lesser charges.
His crapshoot so far has paid off. In the first trial one juror refused to join the other 11 in voting him guilty. He saw Vigil as a victim, despite videotape showing Vigil taking envelopes of cash and tons of other incriminating evidence.
This lone juror must have swallowed the defense that it wasn’t the real Robert Vigil accepting dirty cash on those videotapes. Everyone knows the real Robert Vigil would never have done anything like that if he knew cameras were rolling.
Vigil’s sitting at counsel table. I notice him writing on a legal pad. I can’t see what he’s scribbling, but I’m guessing a thank-you note to Attorney General Patricia Madrid. The way she’s acting in the midst of the largest corruption scandal in state history, Vigil should be her No. 1 fan.
For starters, Madrid has silenced the most important witness against Vigil. Kent Nelson is the other person on those damning videotapes. He was an investment adviser to whom Vigil steered state investments in order to generate cash flow for the kickbacks. Nelson’s testimony is critical to understanding how the kickback scheme begun under Montoya was embraced by Vigil. Nelson cooperated in the first trial. This time he’s clamming up.
Why? Because Madrid, instead of helping to bring Vigil to justice, went after the federal government’s witnesses. She filed state charges based upon their testimony in federal court. That amounts to punishment for cooperating with the U.S. Department of Justice. Madrid says she encouraged Nelson to testify again. As you would expect, he’s declined. The most prosecutors can do now is read his old and cold testimony from the last trial.
This fits right into the Vigil defense strategy. His lawyers want to inject novocaine straight into jurors’ brains. For instance, rather than stipulate to the admissibility of documentary minutiae, Sam Bregman and the rest of Vigil’s defense team are making the government fight for the admissibility of every tedious scrap of paper. A numb jury can’t feel outrage. Corruption, schmurruption. What’s for lunch?
The last thing Vigil’s team wants is dramatic, flesh-and-blood testimony from the guy who put the money into Vigil’s soiled hands. Patsy’s little gift to Vigil was delivered when Kent Nelson took the Fifth.
(An “I told you so” is in order. In “Patsy’s Patsies,” June 22-28, I predicted this would happen as a result of Madrid’s bizarre decision to go after the federal witnesses before Vigil’s retrial. Why she couldn’t wait she’s never explained.)
Madrid will leave office without charging Robert Vigil with so much as a misdemeanor. She’s got everything she needs to bring the same kind of case against Vigil she’s filed against Montoya and the other scoundrels. The feds have handed her a readymade package, with every witness and document she requires to put Vigil in the state pen and send the message that corruption will not be tolerated in Santa Fe.
Her reason for giving Vigil a pass? Maybe it’s on that colonoscopy monitor, in those quivering, slimy images that so much resemble the insides of New Mexico state government.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.