Citing his "good character," a "distinguished history" of public service and his "critical" role in caring for ailing family members, Gov. Susana Martinez' former campaign manager Jamie Estrada is asking a federal judge to put him on probation instead of throwing him behind bars for intercepting Martinez' campaign emails then lying to federal agents about it.
New filings in the case reveal a intimate side of Estrada—Martinez' estranged campaign manager who pleaded guilty in June on two federal felonies. Attorneys want to show US District Court Judge William Johnson that the defendant doesn't deserve the maximum sentence of just over a year in prison for crimes Estrada now calls "completely out of character" for a rising star in the Republican Party who has no prior convictions or even "prior contact with law enforcement."
The contriteness Estrada, 41, expresses in his sentencing memorandum contrasts sharply with the more defiant tone he took just months ago as the case approached a possible jury trial in July. Estrada maintained innocence in the face of 16 felony charges and accused Martinez and her close associates of "potentially corrupt conduct" that he argued was revealed by the campaign emails that he intercepted and released to the governor's political opponents.
Martinez said at the time it would've been easier for her to not have "reported this crime," but she was willing to endure "bogus and personal smears" in cooperating as a victim in the case because thousands of New Mexicans are victims of cyber crimes each year.
But Judge Johnson swatted down the defense request for documents pertaining to alleged improprieties by Martinez and her inner circle, saying the case was only about the charges against Estrada, "nothing more, nothing less." Shortly after that defeat, Estrada struck a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to intercepting one of the emails outlined in the charges and for one count of lying to the FBI about it.
He's now at the mercy of the court, which can sentence him to a maximum of 366 days in prison in a planned Oct. 8 hearing.
Now he describes his motives for intercepting the emails as "mixed" and says that "obtaining these emails and later sharing them represented serious lapses of ethics and judgement."
"He felt used and betrayed by Gov. Martinez," argues Estrada's defense team. "But he also believed that the emails would reveal that Gov. Martinez or members of her administration were involved in unethical and possibly even illegal conduct. In any event, he knows there is no excuse for his own actions."
Martinez has maintained her administration's awarding of a 25-year contract that allows the Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino to lease New Mexico State Fair land was above board, and the federal government has not filed any charges resulting from its investigation into the deal. Many of the intercepted emails later turned into newspaper headlines about the racino.
Estrada served as the Martinez' campaign manager from the summer of 2009 through December, before beginning an unsuccessful run for a seat on the Public Regulation Commission. Martinez maintains she fired Estrada for looking at her emails while Estrada still maintains she never fired him.
Estrada's team argues his "integrity, generosity, kindness, and commitment to serving our community, our state, and our country" and "love for and commitment to his family, friends, and wife" justify probation instead of prison time.
The sentencing memorandum coupled by letters from friends, family and former colleagues paint a narrative of the Las Cruces native as a dedicated family man who excelled in school, business and politics. Documents describe an eager New Mexico State University honors student with a 3.9 GPA who earned two bachelor's degrees in economics into business, parlaying his college education into a successful stint at Intel and eventually a master's degree in business administration from Georgetown University.
Included in the 69 letters Estrada submitted is a testimony from Republican oilman Mark Murphy, who "directly attributes" former President George W Bush's win in New Mexico in the 2004 presidential election to Estrada's efforts as a field director in the campaign's New Mexico operation.
Colleagues from Bush's US Department of Commerce—where Estrada quickly rose to the position as the deputy assistant secretary of manufacturing—describe him as someone more dedicated to his public service than a typical "political appointee."
Estrada's emphasis on his "true character" and "patriotism" while serving the GOP presidential administration could play well with Judge Johnson, whom Bush appointed to the federal bench in 2001. He also secures a letter from an FBI agent, Jerry Hanafin, a friend who "still believe[s] today" that Estrada is "of high moral character and integrity."
Current Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio, a former assistant US attorney, writes to the court that he met Estrada two years ago—around the time the FBI began its investigation into Estrada—and, "We communicate about once a week." D'Antonio is a Democrat who defeated Martinez' ally Amy Orlando in a heated 2012 race.
"His indictment was a shock to me, and I was disappointed to hear the allegations," D'Antonio writes. "Instead of running away from Jamie, as a friend, I confronted him about the matter."
Estrada argues probation is sufficient because he's "suffered and will continue to suffer tremendous collateral consequences as a result of his actions," including losing his employment, his right to vote and "longtime goal of a career in politics or public service."
Probation, the defense argues, would also ensure Estrada would be able to care for his ailing father and directing the care for his brother, who's suffering from a "disabling condition associated with liver disease."
"If Mr. Estrada is imprisoned and separated from his family," the defense argues, "it will be impossible for him to provide critical care and support for his brother, who has a fatal illness, and for his father, who is also in poor health."
His wife Kristina Estrada—a current Department of Defense branch chief who works on military intelligence and holds a security clearance—also makes her first public comments about the case in her own letter, saying that the charges "are completely out of character" for the "real Jamie: a faithful, trustworthy, honorable, loving and dedicated individual" who rescues stray dogs and finds guidance in their pastor's recent advice: "Your past will either be a rudder to guide you, or an anchor to hold you back."
"Jamie is choosing the rudder," she writes.