A dozen documents that have been shielded from public view by Legislative Council Services for more than a year show that former state Sen. Phil Griego’s legal team tried to negotiate a secret reprimand with the Senate Investigative Subcommittee’s special counsel rather than face ethics and rules violation charges at a public hearing in 2015.
SFR obtained the records from the state office via a public records request late last week, after they were ordered released to prosecutors ahead of a preliminary hearing scheduled to start this morning in Albuquerque and move to Santa Fe later in the week.
Prosecutors from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office will try to persuade a state district court judge this week that Phil Griego, the former chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, who resigned in disgrace in March 2015, should stand trial on 10 corruption charges stemming from the sale of a state building in Santa Fe in 2014.
The documents also show Legislative Council Service staff moved quickly after it received an ethics complaint against Griego from a New Mexico nonprofit’s executive director on Nov. 25, 2014. The complainant’s name is blacked out on the documents, however, because legislative ethics rules keep it confidential.
By Dec. 3, 2014, John Yaeger, the assistant director of LCS, informed Griego about the complaint and notified him that an ethics investigative subcommittee—including Senate Leader Michael Sanchez and Senate Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen, both Democrats, along with Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle and Sen. William Shearer, both Republicans—would review the complaint and determine if special counsel should be retained.
That lawyer, Thomas Hnasko, would investigate whether the real estate commission fees Griego earned brokering the building’s sale between the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and two Santa Fe hoteliers constituted violations of the state constitution, Senate rules and the Governmental Conduct Act.
On Jan. 19, 2015, Hnasko, an attorney at Santa Fe law firm Hinkle Shanor, requested a meeting with Griego to verify the accuracy of public statements attributed to him.
A week later, Hnasko appeared frustrated that Greigo and his legal team had not agreed to an interview. Hnasko informed the group that he and his co-counsel Michael Browde were prepared to conduct a formal deposition under an “alternative path” if needed.
Later, while Hnasko pursued real estate documents from Southwest Escrow and the energy department, Griego’s legal team proposed to settle the confidential investigation with a secret reprimand and a pledge to submit future real estate broker agreements to the Legislative Council Services for an advisory opinion on whether future transactions would constitute Senate rule or ethics violations. That proposal was rejected.
Instead, by Feb. 25, Hnasko emailed Griego’s legal team notice that the lawmaker’s silence on a stipulated agreement drafted by the investigative subcommittee constituted a rejection of the drafted proposal. Just two hours after receiving the notice, Diego Zamora, Griego’s attorney, responded by saying that he had been sick and another attorney, Robert Stranahan, would reply to the agreement.
But by March 6, just 10 days before Griego submitted his resignation from the Senate, Hnasko sent a formal charging document to Zamora along with a timeline for a full Senate Ethics Committee schedule to consider the subcommittee’s formal recommendations and to set a formal public hearing on whether to adopt the charge.
Three days later, Griego’s legal team notified Hnasko they could not accept the stipulated agreement and raised concerns about its content and again claimed that Griego had no knowledge of the constitutional provision that prohibits lawmakers from financially benefitting from legislation passed during their term.
Griego’s offer was rejected as nonresponsive.
SFR is publishing the newly released documents below.
Also on Friday, Loveless denied prosecutors’ motion to compel this journalist to testify about confidential information received about Griego over the last 24 months. The judge did require limited testimony to authenticate Greigo’s voice on a recording of an interview posted on Twitter.
This week, while Griego hears the evidence prosecutors have against him and consider the possibility of spending up to 28 years in prison if he’s convicted on all the charges and paying up to $40,000 in fines, he’s having to prepare for another legal battle.
Late Friday, the Albuquerque Journal reported Griego and two other men face misdemeanor charges for removing rocks from property that Griego’s family has leased from the state land office for more than five decades.
SFR was first to report the thefts and learned this spring that when Griego opted not to reimburse the state for the valuable sandstone boulders, Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn canceled the land lease.