Phil Griego told a jury he didn't do anything illegal as he brokered the sale of a state-owned building that would earn him a $50,000 commission.
That's not to say there's nothing he would change.
"I should have told the whole world," Griego said to his attorney of his involvement in the deal and his decision to keep it quiet.
Griego's testimony Tuesday, which appears to have been a last-minute decision, closely followed the narrative of the real estate deal that's been advanced by his defense attorneys: Griego didn't seek out the payday, and he didn't hide his role in it. When he had the opportunity to apply political pressure to push the transaction along, he stepped aside. When news of the deal broke in SFR and other newspapers, he answered questions. When his Senate colleagues decided to reprimand him, he resigned.
"I never intended to lie, cheat or steal for anyone, and signing this document would bring all these innuendos and accusations to an end," Griego said of the statement of facts he signed following the 2015 Senate ethics investigation. By the end of his testimony, Griego dabbed at his eyes as he haltingly read his letter of resignation.
If a Santa Fe jury believes that Griego misplayed an effort at keeping the lucrative transaction at arm's length, it could keep the 69-year-old grandfather out of prison. He faces eight counts related to public corruption, including fraud, bribery and perjury. Guilty verdicts could mean 20 years or more in state custody.
Prosecutors find it unlikely that a veteran of 19 legislative sessions could make so many unintentional missteps as the resolution necessary to put the sale in motion made its way through the Roundhouse.
On cross examination, Assistant Attorney General Mark Andrew Probasco challenged Griego's claim that he was only casually following the resolution he'd asked staffers to draft. Griego testified he hadn't read the legislative report that misstated the need for the sale; that the state was paying more in maintenance than it was earning in rent. Both sides have spent time talking about the duty lawmakers have to correct information they know to be wrong.
Probasco reminded jurors that Griego spoke in favor of the bill in front of a Senate panel, and walked the ex-senator through his testimony while comparing it to the language in the report.
"Isn't it true that the sentences you spoke in the Senate Rules Committee are the exact sentences from the fiscal impact report?" Probasco asked. Griego admitted they were similar, though he wouldn't say they were exactly the same. The ex-senator told the court he got his information from the state agency that was selling the property.
The building in question is in an historic part of Santa Fe on East De Vargas Street, right next to the swanky Inn of the Five Graces, owned by the Seret family. It had been used to house parts of the State Parks Division, but the Serets signed a 25-year lease on the property in September 2012. Within a year, the family had heard through idle chatter at the city clerk's office that the state wanted to sell.
Ira Seret, the colorful patriarch of the family that owns both the inn and a downtown antique store, testified that the family was pleased with its lease, which gave them the ability to spruce up the aging property and add both storage and a workout room to the hotel. It was also long enough to make that $250,000 investment worthwhile. The Serets had also agreed to pay maintenance costs on the building.
Seret, like his son Sharif did a few days earlier in testimony, told the jury the family wasn't especially interested in buying the property, but he worried that if he let someone else snap it up, he'd lose the lease to his new landlord. Through lease or through ownership, Seret told the court he was on the hook for much of the improvement and maintenance to the property, something that turned out to be quite a project.
"I can't believe that people were inside that building," Seret told the jury Monday.
Griego's attorneys have sought to portray the urgency behind the deal as being driven not by the ex-senator, but by the state agency that feared it would get stuck with the aging property. When the deal was in its infancy in September 2013, Griego met with former Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Deputy Secretary Brett Woods.
"He didn't go into great detail about the building. He just said it was a money pit," Griego told the court.
The penultimate day of the 2014 legislative session was typically hectic on the Senate floor, as House members and senators lobbied the Senate majority floor leader to move their bills up the agenda for a vote, lest they run out of time in the filibustering that often takes place on the session's last day.
Griego said he himself told Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez twice that the resolution authorizing the sale was on the agenda. It was eventually moved up to a higher spot and brought to a vote.
Despite pushing Sanchez to give the measure a vote, Griego didn't handle it on the floor. Later, however, as he tried to explain how he kept a safe distance from the legislation, the ex-senator told the court that the floor leader was "a show all unto himself. And no one, not even the governor, can apply political pressure to the floor leader."
Though the official record still says Griego voted on the measure, video from that day shows him "taking a walk," a politically expedient maneuver lawmakers sometimes use to avoid voting yes or no on legislation.
"My reason was to avoid an appearance of impropriety," Griego told the court. "I probably should have abstained. If I had done that I probably wouldn't be sitting here today."
Griego is the final witness in the trial, which is likely to go to the jury on Wednesday afternoon.