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Gary King Launches Criminal Probe into Missing Emails

Attorney General's Office hasn't announced targets, statutes violated

Local NewsMonday, September 29, 2014 by Justin Horwath
It looks like someone destroyed government records on purpose in a Las Cruces district attorney office, says Attorney General Gary King, who today launched a criminal investigation into the matter. 

There "appears to have been a concerted, directed effort at permanently doing away records or information that belong to a state government agency,"  in the office of the Third Judicial District Attorney, according to what King's General Council Dave Pederson told reporters at an Albuquerque press conference.

Making a brief appearance without answering questions, King said the act "appears not to be the result of an inadvertent clerical error or policy but rather the planned intentional destruction of vital government records."

The announcement follows Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio's administrative report that alleged the intentional destruction of email files, hard drives and documents under the administration of his predecessor, Amy Orlando.

D'Antonio says his office discovered the apparent destruction of electronic records after the state's Democratic Party made a request to inspect emails of Orlando, then-district attorney Susana Martinez and a senior investigator in the office. 

Martinez appointed Orlando as the Third Judicial District Attorney after being elected governor in 2011. Orlando lost the 2012 election for that seat to D'Antonio, a Democrat.

Orlando is currently the top lawyer for the Department of Public Safety, an agency under the direction of Gov. Martinez that oversees state police. 

The attorney general's office would not have to solicit help from the state police in the investigation, Pederson says. 

Orlando and Martinez' office have not yet returned requests for comment. Previously Orlando called D'Antionio's report a "political witch hunt."

Following King's campaign and office issuing press releases about the issue, Adam Feldman, who does work for Martinez' campaign, posted records online that showed King signing off on a document allows the attorney general's email system to purge emails after a year. Department of Public Safety Secretary Greg Fouratt repeated that line to the Las Cruces Sun News this weekend. The Sun News, however, quoted King's office saying that while it deletes emails from active files, it keeps those messages permanently.

"This goes way beyond simply pressing the delete button on certain emails or electronic files," Pederson told reporters.

He maintained the investigation is not politically motivated. Pederson says he didn't want to tell reporters what specific criminal statutes might have been violated because that might tip off individuals. 

There are no current targets in the AG's investigation, Pederson says.

Peter St. Cyr contributed to this report

Sue School

Teachers union files two lawsuits against state Public Education Department

Local NewsMonday, September 29, 2014 by Joey Peters

The National Education Association of New Mexico, which over the past few years has clashed heavily with Gov. Susana Martinez' education policies, recently filed two lawsuits against the state education department. 

The first lawsuit, filed last week in district court, alleges that the Public Education Department violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act after the union filed three records requests over the agency's "unilateral decision to impose state control over local school district evaluation of local teachers," according to an NEA statement. 

The state's public records law gives public agencies a maximum of 15 days to respond after they receive a formal request for public documents, though they're allowed to extend the deadline under special circumstances. That's exactly what PED did to two of the union's three requests, though the agency told NEA that it would get back to them on Aug. 27.

"August 27 came and went without any response from the Education Secretary-Designate [Hanna] Skandera’s office," the NEA statement reads. 

The union also says that PED didn't respond properly to a third request, instead giving only a two-paragraph response. 

"Two of the three information requests are now entering their third month without any reply, and their reply to the third request only partially satisfied the request—there were no supporting documents as requested," reads the NEA statement. 

PED spokesman Larry Behrens quickly dismissed the lawsuit as "politically motivated" in a comment to the Albuquerque Journal, stating that his department had "offered to meet with the NEA" but that the union was only interested in "bringing litigation against PED." 

SFR has had similar experiences with record requests to PED recently. One SFR request concerning communications about Teachscape, the software program the agency uses to evaluate teachers, waited two and a half months before it garnered a respond. NEA says its ignored records requests were also about Teachscape.

Today, NEA announced that it had since filed another lawsuit, this one focusing on getting the court to stop the state's controversial teacher evaluation system. The lawsuit argues that Skandera began the evaluation system through an executive order after it failed to gain steam in the state Legislature. 

This lawsuit alleges that Skandera's executive order violates the state Constitution's separation of powers doctrine. Last year, a district judge rejected a petition from the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers and several lawmakers, ruling that Skandera was within her means to make such an order. 

Super PAC enters New Mexico attorney general race

Ad buy is first big one in NM from an outside group

Local NewsMonday, September 29, 2014 by New Mexico In Depth

A Democratic super PAC booked at least $345,350 in TV ads aimed at the New Mexico attorney general’s race last week.

In fact, the Committee for Justice and Fairness is outspending the two candidates by nearly $100,000. So far, Democrat Hector Balderas is spending $133,415 and Republican Susan Riedel $120,144 in their race to replace Democrat Gary King, who is running for governor.

It’s the first significant ad buy in New Mexico this fall from an outside group. The ads will begin Oct. 9 and run through Election Day. The Committee for Justice and Fairness is funded by the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

Total political ad spending in the state is almost $7 million with nearly seven straight days of ads aired or scheduled, according to a New Mexico In Depth analysis of political ad contracts filed through Sept. 26 with the Federal Communications Commission. The numbers don’t include cable or satellite ads or radio advertising.

Here's a look at advertising by affiliation:

GOP Gov. Susana Martinez continues to dominate ad spending, increasing her ad presence by nearly $174,000 last week. King, meanwhile, hasn’t aired TV ads for the last month. Martinez’s spending gives Republicans a $1 million in lead in political ad spending.

Incumbent Democratic US Sen. Tom Udall has contracted for about $1.2 million in ads. His challenger, Republican Allen Weh, increased his ad buys by $76,040 last week to almost $447,000.

And Democrat Rocky Lara increased her ad contracts by $92,585 last week. She’s challenging GOP incumbent US Rep. Steve Pearce in the 2nd Congressional District. Lara is buying time week-by-week thus far, while Pearce has ads scheduled through Nov. 3 on most stations.

Here’s a look at all the advertisers in the New Mexico market this year:

This story was reported by Sandra Fish, New Mexico In Depth’s data journalist, who can be reached at fish@nmindepth.com or on Twitter @fishnette.

Journalism Honors

SFR earns top prizes for investigative journalism and education reporting from NMPA and APME

Local NewsMonday, September 29, 2014 by SFR

When SFR's reporting team kept following the money, they pieced together a compelling report about connections between the state's governor and the owners of racino enterprise that went on to secure a lucrative lease from the state. That story, sniffed out by Justin Horwath, Joey Peters and Peter St. Cyr, earned the weekly newspaper a First Place award in the 2014 New Mexico Press Association and Associate Press Media Editors Betters Newspaper Awards.

The organization and its guest judges from the Texas Press Association also honored Peters with a First Place award for education writing for his story about why teachers are leaving the profession.

But it didn't stop there. SFR, judged along with the state's other large weeklies, earned six Second Place awards in the following categories:

  • Web Site
  • Special Sections, for the Local Music Issue, published in May;
  • Environmental and Agricultural reporting, for Joseph Sorretino's story on chile pickers;
  • Design and Typography
  • Breaking News, for Peters' story about the odd deal for a restaurant at the Santa Fe Airport
  • News Writing, for Peters' expose on plagiarism by a public radio station

Feds Want Jamie Estrada Behind Bars

Former Gov. Martinez campaign manager wants probation

Local NewsFriday, September 26, 2014 by Justin Horwath

Prosecutors with New Mexico's US Attorney's Office are asking a federal judge to sentence Gov. Susana Martinez' former campaign manager to prison. 

In July, Jamie Estrada pleaded guilty to one felony for intercepting an email sent to Martinez' campaign account and another felony for lying to the FBI about his role in accessing the campaign's domain and intercepting emails sent to its accounts for a year.

Prosecutors are asking US District Court Judge William Johnson to sentence Estrada at the "higher end" of the sentencing range in his plea agreement with the government. Under that agreement, Johnson can impose a maximum sentence of a year and day in prison.

Sentencing Estrada to the higher end of that range, prosecutors argue, would "best reflect the seriousness of his crimes, promote respect for the law, and be a fair and just punishment in this case."

Estrada's "carefully orchestrated actions in covertly diverting or stealing other peoples' emails for nearly a year, arranging for the release of the stolen emails to Governor Martinez's political opponents so that they could maximize any perceived damage to individuals he viewed as adversaries," argue prosecutors, "and then lying to the FBI about his involvement in stealing the emails, are not the actions of a man of loyalty, honor, integrity or trustworthiness."

Estrada filed his own sentencing memorandum that asked the judge for probation, citing his character, public service and role in caring for sick family members. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 8. 

But federal prosecutors are asking for a tougher sentence against Estrada, who they say "arranged to spy electronically upon his former boss and colleagues..." Prosecutors allege Estrada "harbored resentment against" Martinez for not appointing him to a post in the Martinez administration and "decided to hijack all the campaign email accounts" of Martinez' staffers when he was contacted about the domain password in the summer of 2011, when the domain was set to expire. 

Estrada worked for Martinez' campaign briefly before leaving in December 2009 to run for a seat on the Public Regulation Commission. Martinez says she fired him while Estrada disputes that claim. By the summer of 2011, he was apparently the only official from Martinez' 2010 campaign with the password that controlled the campaign domain, despite his falling out with Martinez.

Using that password, prosecutors say, Estrada took control of the domain, intercepted hundreds of email messages and gave them to Martinez' political opponents "knowing that they would be disseminated."

SFR was among the media outlets that published the emails. Some included private information like bank account statements and receipts for Martinez' personal shopping. But the majority of the emails obtained by SFR revealed Martinez and her staffers conducting state business in the shadows of a private email network, such as communications between a lobbyist for the Downs of Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino, which was bidding with the state for a 25-year contract, and Martinez staffers. Her administration eventually awarded the contract to the company, allowing it to expand gambling operations on State Fair land.

Prosecutors point to a year and day sentence leveled against David Kernell, a University of Tennessee student who "hacked into former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's email account during the 2008 presidential campaign." 

Prosecutors say Estrada's "more advanced age, his education and professional experience, his prior position of trust in Governor Martinez's campaign, the manner in which he hijacked the email accounts, the length of time in which he maintained control of the email accounts, and the fact that he gave the stolen emails to political operatives to assure the emails would be released, all point to even more blameworthy conduct than that in which Defendant Kernell engaged."


  US Sentencing Memo Jamie Estrada With Exhibits by justinhorwath

Toss trash free this weekend

Waste agency will take rubbish, bulky items off your hands

Local NewsFriday, September 26, 2014 by Justin Horwath

The Solid Waste Management Agency (SWaMa) is hosting trash amnesty days this weekend.

Santa Fe city and county residents can bring trash to the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station (BuRRT) for free from 8 am-4:45 pm this Saturday and Sunday.

"The purpose of the agency Amnesty Day program is to help reduce illegal dumping, make it easier for residents to cleanup dump sites and make our community a cleaner place," SWaMa says in a press release. "As per City of Santa Fe Ordinance, ALL trash loads must be covered and tarped.  If your load it not tarped you will be assessed a $15/load penalty."

Here's how SWaMa defines "trash" that you can drop off without being charged:

  • Rubbish
  • Unwanted materials 
  • Bulky items like large appliances, furniture, mattresses and box springs 
  • Remodeling and building materials
  • Carpet and tiles 
  • Concrete, brick, asphalt and metals 

Officials will charge customers normal gates fees to dispose of items not considered trash. Those include green waste, household hazardous waste, electronic scrap and tires.

SwAmA is hosting the event in conjunction with Keep Santa Fe Beautiful.

For more information, click here for SWaMa's website.

Low Water

Despite rainfall in town, Santa Fe city reservoirs remain low

Local NewsFriday, September 26, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

Santa Fe and outlying areas got a good dousing of rain this month, but those cloudbursts didn’t fall equally in the city’s watershed.

Alex Puglisi, interim source and supply manager for the city, says the water levels in two reservoirs are actually very low at present—and he's ok with it.

“The other night when we got 1.75 inches in town, we got about .38 inches in the watershed,” he says, “So basically we are not seeing these large events like we saw last year—with one or two events with 2 inches— that really filled up the reservoirs. This year that is not happening.”

Nichols Reservoir is only about 43 percent full, he says, and its larger sibling, the McClure Reservoir, is at about 5 percent of capacity.


McClure Reservoir is being drained for repairs and currently sits at its lowest level in decades. 
City of Santa Fe

 

Those numbers don’t mean the city is in dire straits with respect to water supply, however. They’re low mostly because officials are in the process of draining the bigger lake for reconstruction of an aging outflow control tower. 

In the spring, Nichols was completely drained so the same reconstruction could take place there. Since that work wrapped up in the early summer, the city has been releasing water down the river for the “Living River” ordinance and for deliveries to acequias for irrigation. Plus, because they know they’ll soon move water down from McClure, the city has been treating and delivering water from Nichols to municipal taps as well.

“Part of the reason for that is that we’ve been treating throughout the summer is because if we do have a normal winter, we want to be able to at least capture that much snowmelt in Nichols,” Puglisi says. “We are hearing it's going to be a normal or above normal snowpack year and McClure won’t be done by the time we get to snowmelt season.”

The tower on McClure really needs the repairs, he says, noting that valves that should already be releasing water downstream are stuck closed, and that kind of inoperability is dangerous. The two reservoir projects together have a pricetag that exceeds $7 million.

The city also gets water from the Rio Grande through the Buckman Direct Diversion and from two groundwater well fields.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong percentages for reservoir levels.

New Neighbor

Producer buys part of Santa Fe Canyon Ranch, reduces development density

Local NewsThursday, September 25, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

Meet your new neighbor: The Beverly Hills producer who brought the world the Friday the 13th and Species franchises and films such as Ronin and Stigmata.

But Frank Mancuso Jr. isn’t moving to New Mexico to open a film studio; he’s ready to reinvent himself as a rancher.

Mancuso has purchased about 850 acres that was once part of Santa Fe Canyon Ranch on La Bajada Mesa. While the land had development approval for up to 18 homes, he's had it rezoned for a single family homestead complete with horses, cows and plans to “grow stuff.” 

That’s already sitting well with longtime residents of the area who didn’t want to see a subdivision in their community. The La Cienga Valley Improvement Association supported the rezoning effort. Santa Fe County owns the rest of the former ranch, a 470-acre property it paid $7 million for in 2012 and has yet to announce a plan for.

While Mancuso and his wife first considered buying a second home in Santa Fe last year, they quickly shifted to the plan to buy the ranch land and relocate from Los Angeles with their 13-year-old daughter.

No homes have been built on the ranch west of I-25 at present, so the Macusos, who closed on the land deal last month, plan to next build a new home and guest home. In the future, he says, maybe he’ll add a cottage residence for son Giovanni, a 21-year old who will begin classes at University of New Mexico in the winter.   

“LA is great and it's been a great place for me to be for the years that I have been there, but I feel like if that is your only experience, then you are ultimately going to be limited,” he says, adding that his son feels like Santa Fe is “a place where he can make his mark.”

"The thing is people here are looking at your eyes," he says. "They are not looking at your watch or looking at whose shoes you have on or what bag you are holding onto. And that really is different."

Plus, he says, he’s ready to use his Hollywood connections to help associates take advantage of the state tax credits that he says are still a “great deal.”

Mancuso is bringing at least a piece of the LA culture to his new Southwestern home. While Santa Fe County has rule prohibiting new swimming pools, he asked for and was a granted a variance to build a pool and fill it with well water so the family can continue to swim as much as they do in California.

Maybe the story all sounds like the makings of a good movie itself.  

“I don’t know if it’s going to be Green Acres or what,” says Mancuso, “I don’t know what it’s going to be.”

Gary King's Webisodes

Cows, kids and controversy featured in online videos for low-spending gubernatorial candidate

Local NewsThursday, September 25, 2014 by Joey Peters

Gary King's campaign coffers may not be enough to allow him to purchase TV time this month, but he's trying to make up for that online. 

This week, King's campaign released two YouTube "webisodes." 

The first features King in his home turf near Moriarty. It starts with King and running mate Deb Haaland overlooking the land, with a few shots of the rear ends of two cows. It then cuts to black-and-white with King explaining how his grandparents came to New Mexico "in a Model-T Ford," which they traded for land and livestock. Here, King explains his rural roots. 

"I learned to irrigate when I was very young," King says. "I learned to drive a tractor when I was about 12 years old, probably. You had to work hard to harvest the corn before frost." 

King then gets to politics, explaining how during his tenure as attorney general, his office prevented a land swap deal of state land "that had been used for all these traditional kinds of things—wood-gathering and picnicking and such" that was going to be sold to a wealthy Texas-based rancher. 


King's next webisode is education-focused. It opens with a woman declaring that she's voting for him because she doesn't want her kids "tested to death." 

Next, a young girl declares that she doesn't want Gov. Susana Martinez around for another term "because she's going to hold back struggling third-grade readers." It's a reference of Martinez' push to end the "social promotion" of allowing third-graders who can't read to advance to fourth grade. 

The web ad takes a shot at state Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera without naming her. 

"The person she chose as head of our Public Education Department is not an educator," a woman says. 

The ad also features an appearance from Albuquerque school board member Kathy Korte, a noted opponent of Martinez' education policies. 

"I don't want Susana back because she's taken control away from local school boards, and we as school boards should be able to serve our communities the best way we know how," Korte says in the ad. 

Martinez, of course, has had the cash to air many TV ads over the past few weeks. For SFR's analysis of them, click here.

Legalize It

Study says marijuana sales would bring $28M to New Mexico

Local NewsWednesday, September 24, 2014 by Joey Peters

A study released this week concludes that legalizing marijuana in New Mexico would bring an additional $28 million in state revenue each year.

The study, compiled by the personal finance website NerdWallet, also concludes that legalization across the entire country could bring back more than $3 billion in excise and sales taxes each year. NerdWallet, which claims its estimates are conservative, says it compiled the data by finding the number of marijuana smokers in each state through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It also took into account the size of the marijuana market as determined by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron.

Colorado and Washington state remain the only two states where marijuana is allowed to be sold over the counter to recreational users (otherwise known as cannabis enthusiasts or, disparagingly, as potheads). Alaska and Oregon will vote on similar legalization measures this fall. Washington DC residents will also vote on a legalization measure, but it would not give the city the power to tax, sell and regulate marijuana if it passes.

Recently, marijuana has been in the news quite a bit in New Mexico. Last month, the Santa Fe City Council voted to decriminalize possession of one ounce of marijuana or less within city limits. This fall, both Santa Fe County and Bernalillo County voters will get a chance to vote on a non-binding question asking whether or not both counties should support decriminalization. 

Still, full-on legalization in New Mexico may not come anytime soon. An Albuquerque Journal poll found that 50 percent of the state's likely voters oppose legalization. When the poll only accounts for registered voters in the state, however, a slight plurality favored legalization. 

The pot industry has a political connection here as well, as former Gov. Gary Johnson serves as CEO of Cannabis Sativa, which is planning to sell cannabis-related products. 

Gary King Launches Criminal Probe into Missing Emails

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