Already facing tough questions about his role brokering the sale of a historic State Parks’ building for a Santa Fe hotel developer, Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee Chairman Phil A Griego, D-San Jose, is in the ethics hot seat again.
A SFR investigation has uncovered that Griego accepted a campaign contribution from a business associate shortly after helping him land a $26,000 consulting contract with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission last fall.
First troubled about the real estate commission Griego earned on the government building he'd voted to sell, Center for Civic Policy staff members now say they're talking to their lawyers and giving strong consideration to alerting the New Mexico Legislative Council to what they believe to be more "official misconduct on the part of Sen. Phil Griego." The center's new concerns are focused on what SFR found when it reviewed the senator's handwritten financial disclosure form on file with the New Mexico Secretary of State's office.
In January 2014, Greigo claimed to be the chief operating officer of the Carlisle Solutions Group, a small technology and project management company in Santa Fe. He filled out that form months after the firm, which goes by the acronym CSG, was awarded the PRC contract without having to go through a formal evaluation process.
While Griego disclosed his employment, under penalty of perjury, he failed to list the CSG contract with the state, despite it being valued well above the $5,000 reporting requirement level.
In a strange twist, Griego now insists in an interview with SFR that he's not really a CSG executive, even though he passed out business cards with his name, title and the company logo on them earlier this year and has a rent-free office there.
Griego says he and Carlisle attempted a business relationship, but gave up on the idea.
"I didn't really have the patience to learn the thing about clouds and all this other stuff. So I just told him it wasn't going to work out, and I didn't do it. Simple as that," says Griego.
While Griego might not be suited to sell technology services, he does have connections that benefit the business. PRC Chief Financial Officer and Administrative Services Director Matthew Lovato remembers seeing Griego talking inside then-Chief of Staff Johnny Montoya's office sometime during the spring of 2013.
After the private meeting, Lovato tells SFR, Montoya asked him to get a proposal from CSG's owner Rick Carlisle to assess the agency's future information technology department needs and to review potential network security vulnerabilities.
Carlisle jumped on the opportunity and delivered his proposal to the PRC on July 2, 2013. Twenty days later, campaign finance reports show Carlisle made a $1,600 off-year campaign contribution to Griego. By the end of September, the contract was signed.
When SFR stopped by CSG's office in Blue Chip Plaza at 1040 Don Diego Ave., to discuss Griego's involvement, Carlisle first claimed that the senator "never" worked for CSG.
"He's never been officially a part of the company," says Carlisle, pointing to work-performance issues that he'd had with Griego. "He doesn't know technology. I tried to teach him, but it was making life pretty difficult. Whenever he would talk to someone, it was a nightmare."
But when SFR pressed Carlisle about contradictions in the men's statements and the senator's own disclosure, he modified his story, saying Griego worked for the company for a few months, but "never got any money for it." Even though Griego swears he didn't earn a commission on CSG's contract with the PRC, he still spends a lot of time at the building he originally leased for his 2012 re-election campaign.
When CSG took over the building's lease from Griego in 2013, Carlisle allowed the senator to continue to run his real estate business out of the office and host meetings in his conference room.
It's not clear if Carlisle understands that some taxpayers might interpret the free rent and campaign contribution as a trade-off for political favors. During a tour of the space, SFR saw executive desks, a conference table and even a bronze sculpture that were the subject of a previous ethics complaint against the senator.
In April 2012, Jack Sullivan, one of the senator's Democratic Party primary challengers, asked Secretary of State Dianna Duran to review Griego's campaign expenditures, including contributions used to purchase the office furniture. Duran, satisfied with Griego's response to Sullivan's complaint, dropped her review without imposing any sanctions.
Now, Sullivan's 2012 campaign manager Neri Holguin says she isn't surprised to hear that Griego ultimately benefited from the use of the campaign furniture.
"It's yet another example of how Phil Griego has used his political office for personal benefit," she says.
Others are asking questions about the appearance of quid pro quo between Griego and Montoya. Why did Griego sponsor legislation for Montoya, now an employee of CenturyLink? Is it coincidence that Montoya asked the senator to carry a bill to alter the state Telecommunications Act just a few months after Montoya directed his former PRC staff to work with CSG?
"The citizens of New Mexico have a right to know whether members of their Legislature are for sale," says Stephanie Maez, chief executive officer for the Center for Civic Policy. "When elected officials and policy makers betray the public trust, it sends a corrosive message to everyday New Mexicans that tells them, 'Don't bother with democracy; your interests and your needs don't count.'"
Ethics and disclosures aside, SFR has heard from multiple sources at the PRC that the Carlisle's reports may have been a waste of taxpayers' money. The company was supposed to help define technology goals and ensure the PRC's computer servers were securely separated from the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance and Corporations Bureau, which voters removed from the regulation commission's control in 2012.
Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, whose district includes Santa Fe, called the work "incomplete" and says she isn't impressed with CSG.
But Lovato and Commissioner Pat Lyons tell SFR some policy suggestions from CSG could be implemented soon.
After his first report was delivered in January, Carlisle's company was awarded a second $10,000 contract with the PRC to reconfigure an automated online registration system software.
In the meantime, if the Center for Civic Policy moves forward with an ethics complaint against Griego, it may take SFR months to learn about it. Ironically, state laws do not allow the disclosure of a complaint, unless a legislative ethics panel finds probable cause.