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Emailgate A to Z(ish)

A “shadow governor,” child porn and “a man of suspect character”

June 18, 2013, 12:00 am

 It all started…
…one year ago, when SFR and other media outlets received a large cache of leaked emails, all sent or received by accounts on the web domain used for Susana Martinez’ campaign for governor. The emails revealed that public officials frequently used private email to conduct state business, possibly in an attempt to circumvent the state’s public-records law.

From Susana2010 to SusanaPAC

After realizing their accounts were compromised, officials “simply transitioned their political communications to a new domain designated as ‘,’” according to a federal affidavit. The SusanaPAC accounts pertain to the website created for the governor’s political action committee, which is run by Jay McCleskey, her chief political advisor. But the leaked emails show that Martinez staffers didn’t just move “political communications” to SusanaPAC accounts—they also conducted official public business there.

PAC men

Opposite SusanaPAC is Independent Source PAC, a left-leaning, union-funded political action committee established by private investigator and former Gov. Bill Richardson opposition researcher Michael Corwin. In 2011, Corwin obtained dozens of emails from the accounts and handed them over to several media outlets, including SFR. Corwin has declined to identify the source of his emails, but federal documents allege Bruce Wetherbee, a consultant for ISPAC, had received emails from Democratic political consultant Jason Loera.  

“The shadow governor”

In some circles, McCleskey is known as New Mexico’s “shadow governor” for his level of influence over state policy and politics. The leaked emails show that after engineering Martinez’ 2010 run, McCleskey remained involved in the highest levels of government. Despite McCleskey’s frequent appearance in the leaked emails—including being listed first on an email from an Economic Development Department spokeswoman seeking approval for a quote to the Wall Street Journal—he apparently never emails the governor about public business. When SFR requested records of communications between McCleskey and Martinez, the governor’s office replied that it “does not have any documents that are responsive to your request.”

“A man of suspect character”

That’s how Gov. Susana Martinez now describes Jamie Estrada, the man she hired as her interim campaign manager back in 2009. Estrada faces 14 federal charges of illegally intercepting hundreds of emails sent to Martinez and her campaign staffers, then lying about it to federal investigators. In summer 2011, Estrada allegedly renewed the domain under a false identity and began diverting emails to an account he controlled. The Martinez camp has portrayed Estrada as vengeful, saying they fired him in December 2009 for looking at Martinez’ emails and later rejected him for an administration position. Estrada maintains he wasn’t fired—and, on Monday, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

…and then there’s the kiddie porn.

The charges against Estrada say an email account controlled by Loera received campaign emails from Estrada. But while searching Loera’s computer for Emailgate evidence, federal agents happened upon some child pornography. Loera now faces federal charges for possession of child porn, but hasn’t been charged in the email case. His consulting work for New Mexico Democratic Party chairman Sam Bregman has been a convenient point for Martinez supporters.

Who wants to be a billionaire?

At the center of the email controversy is the Downs at Albuquerque, a politically connected company that won a lucrative 25-year lease to operate a racetrack and casino in downtown Albuquerque. Despite the fact that the racino is located on state fairgrounds—public land owned by the state’s taxpayers—the Downs owners are expected to pocket at least $1 billion in horse-racing, gambling and other revenues over the period of the lease. In 2011, the Martinez administration awarded the lease to the Downs, despite past property-management issues. Critics claimed the process was rushed and biased in favor of the Downs, whose principals had donated at least $80,000 to Martinez and her political action committee. Many of the Susana2010 emails show key Downs players like Pat Rogers communicating with top-level administration staffers about the lease before its approval.

“Quislings, French surrender monkeys”

Rogers, a high-profile lawyer, Republican National Committeeman and former board member of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, shows up frequently in the emails. They show Rogers attempting to influence public officials via private email, in addition to sharing tasteless jokes with them. Ultimately, Rogers resigned from NMFOG and, later, from Modrall Sperling, the high-profile law firm where he once worked. More recently, Rogers made SFR headlines for calling staff writer Justin Horwath a “dumbfuck”—on the record.

“the greatest possible information”

For decades, New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act has held that “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees.” In other words, citizens have the right to view public documents because their tax dollars pay for government business. But using private email can render IPRA impotent because records custodians may lack access to a politician’s private emails.

King in the middle

Attorney General Gary King, who’s charged with enforcing IPRA, has stated that emails concerning public business are public, regardless of whether they’re sent on private email accounts. Yet King, a Democrat, is in a thorny spot with Emailgate. Last year, after receiving the leaked Susana2010 emails from ISPAC, King handed them over to SFR in response to a public-records request. He also plans to challenge Martinez for the governorship in 2014, which raises questions about whether he can investigate such an issue without bias.


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