"He came in through the hallway door and said something to the effect of, 'Why'd you mess up my deal, Mr. Speaker?'"
On the witness stand Wednesday in the public corruption trial of former state senator Phil Griego, Ken Martinez recalls standing in his office, the center-of-the-Roundhouse suite that provided him direct access to the rostrum in his role as speaker of the house. It's the most powerful legislative position in New Mexico.
Griego had just walked through the door.
"I would say it was emergent, as though it was an emergency," Martinez said of Griego's demeanor. He told the attorney general's Special Prosecutions Director Clara Moran that he was confused.
"I didn't really understand what he meant by 'his deal,'" Martinez said.
It was April 9, 2014—coming up on two months since the end of the legislative session—and the pair of longtime lawmakers had been in the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission meeting that was scheduled for that day. Martinez was there because his position as speaker of the house meant he was also co-chair of the commission. Griego was there because of his deal.
The deal, as is now widely known, was the sale of a state-owned building next to the Inn of the Five Graces to the luxury hotel's owners. The Seret family already had a 25-year lease on the property with the option to double it to five decades. They were in the process of making a quarter of a million dollars' worth of improvements. The sale would earn Griego a $50,000 commission, but it's also the reason he's no longer a senator and instead, a defendant.
The legislation Griego had staffers draft to authorize the sale required that the legislative panel review the deal before it was final. It wasn't quite certain to the commission what that word meant in this context, Martinez testified, but they were fairly sure they couldn't outright stop the sale. It was unusual because the commission usually reviewed proposed deals before they were more or less final, and many had questions about what was coming before them. They asked to see more information, including a purchase agreement, and shelved the deal until the next meeting, which hadn't yet been scheduled.
"'If what you need is a purchase agreement, we can do that right now,'" Martinez said Griego told him. "He started pulling out forms."
Prosecutors used Martinez' testimony Wednesday to establish that Griego was in a hurry to get the deal done. It was the same sort of testimony jurors heard Tuesday when General Services Department Ed Burckle testified that he took an impromptu meeting with Griego on March 24, 2014, the day the senator inked his $50,000 agreement with the Serets. Griego, Burckle said, seemed anxious to close the sale.
Out of respect for the senator, Martinez said, he met briefly with a high-level legislative staffer and Brett Woods, the deputy cabinet secretary for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Woods favored the sale. Griego pushed hard enough that he asked to reconvene the commission to OK the sale of the state-owned building, Martinez said, and he offered to answer any questions the speaker had about the deal.
Martinez said after a few minutes of listening, he refused to attempt to bring all the commission members back and left his office. "I was not going to discuss it anymore," he told the court. Later that day as he drove home to Grants, Martinez said, he called Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, to tell her about the odd exchange.
But as he did with Burckle on Tuesday, defense attorney Tom Clark took the witness to task over suspecting Griego had a financial stake in the deal, but doing nothing to stop it.
"Did you do anything between CBPC meetings to ask him to clarify his role?" Clark asked Martinez, who answered that he didn't. More than two months passed between commission meetings, the attorney pointed out to Martinez, who admitted that members were milling around prior to the second meeting in June 2014 and he heard someone mention Griego's involvement in the deal.
"Certainly this would have been a moment that if anybody had any concerns, a serious concern or otherwise, about Mr. Griego's involvement, this would have been the moment to make those known?" Clark asked.
"In my position as a member of the House," Martinez said, "it wouldn't have been appropriate."
Instead of disrespecting another elected official by raising questions in an open meeting without warning, Martinez offered, the Senate should have conducted its own investigation. By alerting Sen. Papen, Martinez said, he had done what was required.
On Tuesday, Clark took a similar tack with the GSD secretary, who said he had a "vague recollection" of knowing Griego was involved at the March 2014 meeting, but didn't push the issue further.
To counter the defense, the state has pointed out that anything approaching an admission by Griego happened after he informally agreed to broker the deal and after he worked to pass the legislation to authorize it. What's more, prosecutors argue, the primary responsibility for disclosing a conflict of interest rested with Griego, not anyone else who sensed or knew something was awry.
Late Tuesday, Albuquerque District Court Judge Brett Loveless ruled that attorney and lobbyist TJ Trujillo could testify in the case, but only on a limited basis. The defense had hoped to call Trujillo to recount how he counseled the then-senator during an ethics investigation and to prove Griego's state of mind as the deal unfolded.
It would have been tricky testimony, as the judge had already banned Trujillo from telling jurors that Hector Balderas, who would go on to become the attorney general who is prosecuting Griego, told the senator in 2014 that he didn't have anything to worry about with regard to the real estate transaction. Ultimately, Loveless ruled Trujillo could only testify about the ethics investigation, leaving Griego's defense team unsure if it would call Trujillo at all.
The state is expected to wrap up its case on Thursday. On Monday, the jury will reconvene to hear Griego's attorneys present defense witnesses. Clark told SFR Griego hasn't yet decided if he'll testify in his own defense.
Read this week's cover story about the trial.