The campaign manager for US Senate candidate Allen Weh has filed a defamation lawsuit against opponent David Clements in what's quickly turned into a bitter Republican Party primary.
Meanwhile, the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office is investigating allegations that Diego Espinoza, Weh's campaign manager, hacked Clements' email account for political purposes. Espinoza denies any email hacking and contends that the allegations have caused him “public and personal humiliation, loss of business opportunities, damage to his good name and character, harm to his standing in the community, and mental anguish and suffering.”
But Clements dismisses the defamation lawsuit as nothing more than “the establishment protecting themselves.”
For the uninitiated, Clements is a 34-year-old attorney and former Doña
Ana County Republican Party chairman who’s
running a Senate campaign based on a libertarian-leaning ideological platform. Weh, 71, is a retired Marine colonel who owns a defense contracting company. He's also a former state Republican Party chairman
who ran an unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial campaign in 2010. When it
comes to money advantages and name recognition, Weh outmatches Clements.
But earlier this month, Clements captured nearly half of
the delegate vote at the state Republican Party preprimary convention, surprising
political observers expecting a Weh landslide. Weh narrowly won the delegate vote count by a 7-point margin.
Shortly before the convention, Clements launched a website
called “the Bernalillo Cover-Up” that
claimed the Weh campaign cheated delegates in Bernalillo County and hacked into the Clements
campaign’s email account. Espinoza, the website asserts, then used Clements' email account to forward a strongly-worded open letter that Clements wrote about the controversy more than 500
times to Republican Party delegates across the state.
Clements says that Espinoza’s
mass forwarding of the letter meant that some delegates received it multiple times. When Espinoza forwarded the letter, according to Clements, he masked his email address to make it look like it was coming from Clements' campaign account.
Clements contends this was part of a strategy by Weh designed to annoy and alienate Republican delegates and chip away from his support going into the preprimary convention.
"I was getting messages from delegates that said, 'You sent your letter to me eight times,'" Clements says.
suit denies the hacking and instead claims that he merely "may have 'forwarded the email.'"
"David Clements is aware, or should be aware that the sort of 'hacking' he has alleged is a violation of both federal and New Mexico law," the lawsuit reads. "His intentional use of that term is knowingly false and he is acting with malice."
Espinoza hasn't returned SFR's email or phone call. We'll update this post if he does.
The suit also claims that Clements’ allegations will prevent Espinoza from potential job promotions from his role as a site supervisor at CSI Aviations, the Albuquerque-based air defense contractor where Weh serves as CEO.
“CSI Aviations is involved in business operations that require a security classification,” the lawsuit continues. “The false statements made by defendants will prevent [Espinoza] from receiving any promotion or assignment receiving any promotion or assignment requiring a security clearance.”
But Clements isn’t backing away. Shortly after learning that the defamation was filed, he took his email hacking allegations to the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigations division, which has since opened up a formal investigation into his allegations against Espinoza.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Jameson tells SFR that investigator Pierce Wilber took the report and that the office will likely assign an investigator to the case sometime this week.
"We have an open investigation, but we haven't made much progress on it yet," Jameson says.
Clements says that he's drafting a formal answer to the lawsuit that will feature his hacking allegations as a counterclaim. He adds that he'll be representing himself instead of hiring a lawyer.
"People have donated to me for this race," he says. "I can't use their money for defending myself in a lawsuit."
Read the defamation lawsuit below: