Monday, July 27, 2009

I Thought They Did All Their Talking In Court

A few weeks ago, Attorney General Gary King's press office woudn't even give reporters copies of the indictments of Vincent "Smiley" Gallegos and others charged in the Housing Authority scandal. In fact other times they've indicted politicians, i.e. Jerome Block Jr. and Sr., the AG has been virtually mum. (Reporters have commented that King's office isn't so reluctant to discuss indicted non-politicians.)

That's why this news release sent Friday seemed rather odd. Gary King actually is blowing his own horn. Here he mentions Smiley and Roberta Vigil -- but not the Blocks.
What Is the AG Doing About Public Corruption?

By Gary K. King
New Mexico Attorney General

We have come to the stage where our investigations have resulted in indictments and prosecutions. One of the challenges of the AG's job is to properly manage requests for information from the general public, legislators and the media about ongoing investigations. I have stated this many times but it is always good to repeat: For ethical and legal reasons, my office will have little to say about our investigations until and unless such information becomes public record, as in the filing of an indictment. This policy is utilized for everyone's protection and the preservation of the legal process. When it is proper to do so, I will always provide updates. Here are some things we have been doing on your behalf.

In May of this year, the Attorney General's Office successfully obtained convictions against former West Las Vegas Schools official Roberta Vigil, who was found guilty of two felonies in a fraud and conspiracy trial that involved public money. And just recently, former West Las Vegas schools superintendent Joe Baca agreed to plead No Contest to a fraud charge and pay restitution of $2,750 in the same case.

In June, an investigation by my office led to the indictment of former Region III Housing Authority Executive Director Vincent "Smiley" Gallegos and three others on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges. Again, public funds were involved.

Earlier, my office obtained a court determination that led to the removal of three tenants from homes owned by the Housing Authority because they did not qualify for affordable housing. Two were employees of the authority and the third was a board member. Additionally, an Albuquerque Metro Court judge was disciplined for a conflict of interest related to another aspect of the matter.

More government corruption cases will follow, that is why I formed a special Government Accountability Division (GAD) in the Attorney General's Office shortly after being elected.

As I have said before, public corruption poses the greatest single threat to the credibility of government institutions at all levels. It undermines good government, fundamentally distorts public policy and perception, leads to the misallocation of resources, fosters unethical behavior and ultimately harms all New Mexicans either directly or indirectly. It is the sole job of the GAD to evaluate, investigate and prosecute cases of public corruption.

We, as a society, should not gloat over the fact that some people are being prosecuted for their alleged misdeeds. Instead, we should be thinking about more ways to make it very clear that it is not OK to steal from the public treasury.

It is not just a problem for New Mexico, we have all heard and seen similar stories elsewhere. But just because corruption can occur at any time in any place does not mean it should be tolerated. I think there is a growing mentality in New Mexico and the nation that says we can not sit on the sidelines while our pockets are picked by people we trust. And just because a certain political faction is in power does not give people the right to rob the public coffers with impunity. That kind of thinking is as outdated as it is wrong. Fortunately, more and more ethics-minded public servants are gradually replacing those who feel they have a "right" to help themselves at our expense.

During tough economic times, people are more mindful of their money and they are more closely scrutinizing how others spend their tax dollars. I believe New Mexico is part of a national groundswell of support for more honesty and transparency in government and reduced tolerance for those who use their public offices to enrich themselves and their friends and associates.

The citizens of New Mexico expect a lot from those of us in law enforcement and the judiciary, they should. Perhaps just as important, people should know that they can help us do our jobs by alerting us to corruption and other crimes. This is where I think we all can make a difference in that culture of corruption. When our society no longer tolerates it, when people act as a community against it, corruption may finally disappear from the headlines in our daily news.