Phil Griego's fate is now in the hands of a Santa Fe jury.
Through the two-week trial, the 10 men and 6 women called to judge Griego's actions have listened to a parade of state officials along with businessmen and women who offered testimony that at times seemed it could help either Griego or the prosecutors accusing him of eight crimes of public corruption.
Was the then-senator hiding his involvement in the real estate deal that would land him a $50,000 commission when the state sold a building to the owners of a hotel? Or was he keeping it at arm's length? Was the building so run-down that it would eventually tank the State Parks Division's budget, or was the state comfortably ensconced in a lease that covered most, if not all, of what could go wrong? Did the state want to sell or was Griego pushing the deal?
On Wednesday, attorneys for both sides made lengthy closing arguments to the jury, which is set to begin deliberations Thursday morning.
Eventually, those questions will be answered as the jury decides whether Griego made a series of unintentional missteps that got him in over his head or that he planned and quietly executed the real estate deal that would cost him his political career and, perhaps, his freedom.
While the case appeared complex, Special Prosecutions Division Director Clara Moran told the jury, it was, at its core, simple.
"The defendant was a senator and the defendant could not benefit from his public service," she said. Moran walked jurors through the eight charges—two counts of violating the ethical principles of public service, a pair of fraud counts, bribery, perjury, failing to disclose that he profited from the deal and unlawful interest in a public contract.
She cautioned jurors against buying into the defense's argument that Griego disclosed his stake in the deal appropriately, if quietly, as it went along its path. Defense attorneys questioned several state witnesses about why they hadn't voiced concerns or suspicions about Griego's role, but Moran argued that it wasn't their duty to disclose; it was Phil Griego's.
"He's on trial for abusing his office," Moran pleaded. "He's on trial for getting a direct pecuniary benefit out of his own actions in the Legislature."
But Tom Clark, Griego's lead defense attorney, told the jury that the state was vastly overplaying its hand. Griego didn't deny many of the facts in the case. But they weren't the actions of a senator who intended to pull one over on the state, Clark said. He argued that Griego did disclose his interest. Perhaps not in grand public fashion, but he certainly wasn't keeping it a secret.
Then, Clark let loose with a charge of his own.
"There's an element to this case that is somewhat disturbing to me," Clark told the jury. He went on to detail the testimonies of George Morgan, Alexis Johnson and Brett Woods, all high-level officials who met with Griego in March 2014 when he asked the state to hustle as it reviewed part of the proposed sale.
"These three men, I submit to you, committed perjury," Clark said, pointing to the testimony of Ed Burckle, General Services Department secretary, who told the jury he had a vague recollection that Griego stood to gain from the deal. Burckle, the fifth man in the March 2014 meeting, thought he remembered learning of the then-senator's stake during the meeting.
"This is the first concrete example that the state is trying to sell you a load," Clark told jurors.
Griego didn't violate his ethical obligations because he disclosed, Clark said. He didn't take a bribe because he didn't sign an agreement to represent the buyers until after the Legislature had approved the sale. He didn't defraud anyone because the state wanted to get rid of the building, and Griego's real estate partner didn't demand payment as part of the sale. Griego didn't know he should have disclosed his profits from the sale, so he couldn't have committed perjury.
Besides, Clark pointed out, Griego talked to reporter Peter St. Cyr just days before he closed the deal, knowing full well a newspaper article—in SFR as it happened (Cover, "Sold Out," July 23, 2014)—was likely to follow.
"Who in their right mind who is in the process of ripping off the government talks to an investigative reporter?" Clark wondered.
In a rebuttal, the state pilloried Clark's scenario as fantasy. Deputy Attorney General Sharon Pino told jurors that Griego only told the truth when he had to. When he did, she said, he only told as much as he needed to, keeping crucial information isolated so no one would know his full involvement—not the Legislature, not the hotel owners, not the State Parks Division, not a series of public officials who could never do anything more than wonder if the deal was on the up-and-up.
"Whenever he's confronted with facts he feels uncomfortable about, [it's] 'What are you insinuating?'" Pino told the jury, alluding to Griego's cross examination Tuesday as a prosecutor questioned Griego's respect for the Senate body he served through 19 sessions.
If he's convicted on all counts, the 69-year-old could face more than two decades in prison.