Emails Contradict AG's Con Man Account
Gary King and defense in the Michael Soutar case negotiated terms, records showLocal NewsThursday, September 18, 2014
Internal emails contradict the account given Wednesday by a top official at Gary King's office who told reporters that "the attorney general did not negotiate any kind of agreement with [Michael] Soutar"—a con man prosecuted by King's office but released early from a 34-year prison sentence.
"It's my understanding that you and Raymond [Sanchez] discussed the terms of the motion to reconsider the sentence concerning the securities related convictions," against Soutar, Eleanor Brogan, the con man's public defender, wrote to King on Feb. 21, 2012.
"I've told [Brogan] I'm comfortable that what you and I agreed to will stand," Raymond Sanchez wrote on Soutar's behalf to Gary King in a March 12, 2012 email.
Two days later, Dave Pederson, a special counsel in the AG's office, wrote to his boss: "Gary, Soutar will cop to a plea to all remaining charges tomorrow. I agreed if he does that, no objection to running those concurrent with original sentence.”
The email traffic relating to the the case is coming to light after the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Susana Martinez began hammering away at King's role in Soutar's ultimate release with radio and now TV ads, based on a June cover story published by SFR.
That sentence was supposed to be 34 years, handed down by First Judicial District Court Judge Michael Vigil in 2007 after a jury convicted one of New Mexico's most infamous con men on ten felonies for defrauding victims who invested money in an art market he established in Santa Fe in 2004. By March 2012, Soutar, known as the Casanova Con Man, had been behind bars for nearly eight years, thanks to a joint prosecution between Attorney General King’s Office and the Regulation and Licensing Department’s Securities Division.
King's office—notably not his Democratic gubernatorial campaign—called a press conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday to combat what Pederson characterized as "factual inaccuracies" and an "attack on the professional integrity of the attorney general’s office" by Martinez' ads.
Pederson opened the conference saying the "inferences in the ad are that there was an exercise of some kind of undue influence by Raymond Sanchez on the attorney general—and that this resulted in some sort of back-room bargain that let Michael Soutar out of prison."
Pederson, Sanchez and King served in the Legislature together, he told reporters at the conference, but "that didn't enter into the equation either for Attorney General King and certainly not for me" in the position taken by the attorney general's office during a March 2012 resentencing hearing in that resulted in Soutar's release.
King's office did not oppose Soutar's release in the hearing, despite opposition to Soutar's release by the Securities Division.
Sanchez was never listed as Soutar's attorney in the case, but the Albuquerque lawyer had been lobbying King for nearly a year to pursue "mediation" with King's office as Soutar asked the state's Court of Appeals to overturn 10 felony convictions.
In February 2012, the state Appeals Court upheld all of Soutar's convictions, nullifying the ability of Soutar and King's office to enter into official "mediation." That didn't stop the recidivist felon from asking Judge Vigil to reconsider the harsh 34-year sentence. And emails obtained earlier this year by SFR show that while King noted to a colleague that the Appeals Court ruling meant Soutar lost his "negotiating position," he said he was still concerned about the victims getting their money back in the case.
The two sides continued to communicate about both the terms of the motion the defense was drafting to ask Vigil to reconsider his sentence, which he did, suspending 15 years off the sentence and ordering him to pay roughly $200,000 to various victims in the case.
Not all Soutar’s victims from the scheme got compensated, however, including James O’Hara, a market employee who says Souter didn’t pay him $5,400 in wages, and his brother, who invested $32,500 in the market.
Asked if the court could have forced Soutar to pay back his victims while keeping him behind bars, Pederson responded in the press conference that, “I don’t really know.”
“We will be able to say that justice was served,” Pederson wrote to King the day before Soutar’s March 2012 hearing, “vast sums of State money saved by avoiding future trials, full prompt victim compensation, and closure for all parties.”
Emails show Pederson telling a victims advocate with the attorney general’s office to not respond to James O’Hara’s inquiries about whether he and his brother might get restitution money from the hearing. James and his wife Linda obtained all the emails quoted here in a request made under the Inspection of Public Records Act.
“By the way, [Raymond Sanchez] tried to tell me you ‘gave up’ the escape charge,” Pederson wrote in a March 14, 2012 email to King, referring to Soutar pleading guilty to escaping from prison after his December 2004 indictment. “I told him I convinced you not to just dismiss it versus the other severed counts. He also said you felt the original sentence was too harsh! Always the spin-master.”
Peter St. Cyr contributed to this report