Friday, June 26, 2009

Oh OK, One Other Thing Before I Go On Vacation ...

Sheriff Greg Solano, running for lieutenant governor, just released a statement on ethics.

He's for 'em.

Some of his ideas like an independent ethics commission have been debated for years now and the idea of having a Secretary of State's Web site that actually works is sheer fantasy on the level of Tolkien. (If that was really possible they'd have already done that by now, right?)

But there's some other ideas such as having public financing specifically for attorney general and state auditor are new. Solano also wants a "Department of Webcasting." A new "department" is probably a little far-fetched, but having one central state agency in charge of that is certainly worth discussing.

Here's Solano's list:


* Creation of an independent ethics commission. The commission should be bipartisan and include citizens and members of all three branches of State Government.

* The State Auditor and Attorney General should continue to be elected positions however their campaigns should be publicly financed in order to remove any appearance of impropriety or pay to play allegations. Their offices need to be adequately funded in order investigate and audit all cases of importance that come to their offices.

* The Secretary of States Office needs adequate funding and Technology assistance in order to have complete and easy access to campaign finance reports. The system needs to be easy to use for both candidates and the public.

* The State should have a department of web casting which would be entrusted with getting as many government meetings and press conferences broadcast on the web as possible. or something similar should be created to ensure a one stop shop to find such web casts.

* I also believe political office is a full time job regardless of the position and should be compensated as such. I believe we will attract some who just want to serve and would not be able to afford to do so. This could also provide honest competition for those who just have ulterior motives and those who want to use politics as a stepping stone to big lobby jobs and other high paying positions. The common man or woman who has the knowledge, honesty, wherewithal and ability to run for office should not have to choose between a full time job to support his or her family and serving the public in an elected position.

* Finally transparency and open government has to be the policy and practice from the top down. Those who do not follow that policy should be disciplined or removed. Only then will this be adhered to by all state government. The Governor and Lt. Governor need to set the example.

Friday Tidbits

I'm going on vacation in just a few hours, so, barring anything big, I won't be posting much in here until July 14 or so. I remember a vacation in California a few years ago in which I'd planned not to blog, but I woke up one morning to find a big article about Bill Richardson staring me in the face from the Los Angeles Times, so I couldn't resist. (Dadgum, that article is still up on the Web. CLICK HERE for a profile of the governor in happer times.

So until then, keep checking Kate Nash's Green Chili Chatter. And for you music fans, keep an eye on my music blog. There should be some fun stuff there during the next couple of weeks.

Here's a couple of items before I leave:

* Not a huge surprise, but Emily's List has endorsed Lt. Gov. Diane Denish for governor. I say it's not a surprise because Emily's List only endorses pro-choice Democratic women candidates and Denish doesn't have much in the way of competition there.

This will be a financial boost for Denish. last election cycle Emily's List raised $43 million for its candidates.

The group today also endorsed Alex Sink for governor of Florida.


For the latest Democrat on Democrat (verbal) violence check out my story today on Jerome Block Sr.'s attack on Attorney General Gary King. King is prosecuting Block and his son, Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. on election-related charges.

The story is HERE.


See you in mid July.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The ERB Subpoenas

As Kate Nash reported on her blog a couple of hours ago, the state Educational Retirement Board today released the subpoenas from the FBI regarding investments and third-party placement agents. The feds were particularly interested in dealings with Aldus Equity, a Dallas company at the center of the New York investment scandal.

Here's a copy of the main subpoena. The second simply asks for all e-mails, including attachments, to and from Bruce Malott, the executive director of the ERB.

FBI Subpoena #1

Richardson Denies Manny Statement

Gov. Bill Richardson was called a "sad sack" by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder for allegedly saying it was a "fantastic day in New Mexico" in regard to Manny Ramirez playing with the Albuquerque Isotopes.

However a spokeswoman for the governor says Richardson never said such a thing.

From Alarie Ray-Garcia, responding to Ambinder:

Just wanted to point to you and Mr. Joshua Green that Governor Richardson never said having Manny Ramirez in Albuquerque was “a fantastic day for New Mexico.” I have no idea where the folks over at SportsCenter got their supposed comment from the Governor as he didn’t make one. You are right in that he did attend Tuesday night’s game, just as he tries to attend as many of the Isotopes’ home games as possible.

Thursday Morning Meditations

The Center for Public Integrity has released its annual grades for state financial disclosure laws and New Mexico didn't flunk! In fact we were ranked a respectable 15th with a grade of 74.5, a solid C..

This is not campaign finance-disclosure laws. I'm pretty sure we're still ranked pretty low in that area because we don't require much in the way of employment information for contributors etc. This is financial disclosure for elected public officials.

And keep in mind, the CPI report has an entire section under the heading PUBLIC ACCESS IS KEY and I've been trying for 15 minutes to get on the Secretary of State Web site to check out our financial disclosures to no avail. The last message I got was "Oops! This link appears to be broken."


The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is not impressed with New Mexico's two most famous baseball players. He rained on our Manny parade yesterday:

... The Ramirez steroids scandal is the biggest in pro sports this year. But on SportsCenter last night, there was a moment of politico-athletic scandal serendipity when it was reported that one-time Obama Commerce Secretary nominee Bill Richardson, who withdrew amid an ethics scandal, attended the game and pronounced Manny's joining the Isotopes "a fantastic day for New Mexico"...the circumstances of this "fantastic" turn of events being, let's remember, the entirely just punishment of an epic cheat who has forever tarnished baseball. Nice going, Bill! Ramirez went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. But on balance, I think Richardson proved himself the bigger sad sack.

Roundhouse Roundup: He's Not Your Everyday Detective

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 25, 2009

Albuquerque private investigator Mike Corwin in recent years has been paid thousands of dollars by the campaigns of Democratic candidates in New Mexico. He's done background checks on campaign workers and "opposition research" (read: dirt digging) for candidates including U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Attorney General Gary King, former Land Commissioner Jim Baca and most of all, Gov. Bill Richardson.

He's also done work for government agencies. He did some work for the city of Albuquerque when Baca was mayor. Corwin recently did background checks for employees of the town government of Edgewood. In 2007, he was contracted by the state Judicial Standards Commission to investigate Rio Arriba County Magistrate Judge Tommy Rodella. Rodella's lawyer claimed this was evidence that the judge was the victim of a political vendetta by Richardson. The next year, the state Supreme Court removed Rodella from office.

But could it be possible that Corwin's employers could have saved thousands of dollars if only they'd had access to an online publication written and marketed by Corwin?

The Everyday Detective Information System, which sells for $19.95, is a 135-page pdf document that promises to teach buyers "how to conduct background investigations of businesses, including day care centers and nursing homes, of people including nannies, home health care workers and rental tenants and of professional services, including remodeling contractors and physicians."

Says Corwin's Web site for the publication, "Once learned, these techniques will help you to better protect your family, your money and your home by helping you to identify risky people and businesses before you get involved with them." And there's a chapter on how to avoid being a crime victim — basic tips Corwin said he learned from working for criminal-defense lawyers.

In an interview Wednesday, Corwin said The Everyday Detective was not written as a "So You Want to be a P.I." book. Instead he said, it's just to allow regular citizens to learn how to find information. "There's so much information out there."

The chapters in The Everyday Detective include how to effectively interview people, how to search court records and other public information, how to locate people, how to do background checks and how to investigate auto accidents.

How to be your own best gumshoe: Some of the pitch on his Web site almost seems as if he's trying to use a self-help appeal. In fact, he calls The Everyday Detective "the first step to a more confident and proactive you."

"Imagine the sense of empowerment these new skills will bring to you as you realize that you have the know-how to minimize risks while handling the challenges that life throws your way," the Web site says.

While his main target audience seems to be those who want to check out nursing homes or prospective renters, there's another possible group Corwin says might benefit from his work: "Bloggers who want to take off and do their own political opposition research," he said.

He said he considered including a chapter on opposition research for this project. But he decided that would be the subject of a future book.

Background check: Corwin, a New York native transplanted to California, has been in the investigation biz since 1988. He said he became a detective because he didn't want to be a lawyer and he was tired of the construction business.

He said he graduated from the Nick Harris Detective Academy, which, according to its Web site, is affiliated with a Van Nuys, Calif., detective agency that was established in 1906. "The main thing they teach you is that detective work is not like what you see on TV," Corwin said.

Corwin said he's done more than 8,000 witness interviews and over 10,000 background investigations. He also says he's done investigative work for more than 100 political campaigns.

The detective took a stab at electoral politics himself, running for an Albuquerque state House seat in 2004. Corwin lost to Republican Greg Payne in that contest.
Val in Wonderland
But despite his love for politics, Corwin sounds more excited when he talks about a case he worked early in his career — a multiple homicide in Hollywood involving a major porn star, drug dealers and various other L.A. underbelly denizens that became known as the "Wonderland Murders." Corwin worked for the lawyer of nightclub owner Eddie Nash, who was tried and eventually acquitted for planning the murders of four people.

There's a New Mexico political connection here. That case later was made into a movie called Wonderland which starred Val Kilmer as adult-movie star "Big" John Holmes. If Kilmer runs for governor — a prospect that's looking less likely as Kilmer has been avoiding the local limelight lately — who better to hire for opposition research than the detective who helped spring Eddie Nash?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We Have a Winner

Take a load off, Fanne
Someone identified only as "John" had the correct answer to the sex-scandal blog contest question, "What was the last major American sex scandal involving a woman of Argentine descent?"

Says John,

"I remember it as if it happened yesterday. She was Annabelle Battistella, aka Fanne Fox, `The Argentine Firecracker.' And the politician: Congressman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

I remember it well, the story of a powerful Congressman and a D.C. stripper. I also remember the press conference when a shamed Wilbur appeared with his wife and beloved horse, Mr. Ed ... Oh wait, that was something else. But here's the Washington Post version of the Wilbur Mills/Fanne Fox story CLICK HERE.

So John, if indeed that is your real name, send me an e-mail at sterrell(at) and I'll send you your CD.

Honorable Mention: The lovely and talented Mark Bralley actually was the first to have the corrrect answer. But he e-mailed it me instead of answering it in the comment section of this blog as per contest rules. Sorry Mark, but as an ex cop you gotta know you have to follow procedure. But I still respect your knowledge of political history.

Sex Scandal Contest

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has confessed he was hiking in the Appalachians after all, but having an affair with a woman in Argentina. Read the Associated Press story HERE

So let's have a little contest.

What was the last major American sex scandal involving a woman of Argentine descent. First person to give me the correct name of the woman and the politician involved -- in the comments section of this blog -- gets a free CD of Picnic Time for Potatoheads. Second prize is two copies (just kidding, just kidding!)


Speaking of national scandals, just when you thought it was safe to stop loathing Richard Nixon .... (CLICK HERE)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Foy Expands Whisteblower Suit

Former state Educational Retirement Board investment officer Frank Foy has expanded his "pay-to-play" lawsuit to include local investment broker Marc Correra, his father Anthony Correra, former Bill Richardson pal Guy Riordan and several of those involved in the New York investment scandal, including the indicted Hank Morris

Foy has in a lawsuit claimed that former Richardson chief of staff Dave Contarino, State Investment Officer Gary Bland and ERB director Bruce Malott pressured the ERB and SIC to make investments totalling $90 million with a Chicago company called Vanderbilt. The investments went bad -- though Marc Correra made a couple of million in finders fees on the deals.

This new turn of events should be interesting for Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman. He represents Malott's accounting firm, named as a defendant in this case, as well as Marc Correra in another matter.

Kate Nash is covering a press conference, which should be strarting about now. Meanwhile, below are the latest filings in the case. (I don't know why it shows an error sign. There should be no trouble downloading or reading the documents):

Corrected Austin Amended Complaint w Exhibits-Errata Corrections Made as FILED

Tainted Contributions for Charity

Here's my story about Lt. Gov. Diane Denish giving the campaign contributions from Smiley Gallegos and Bob Strumor to a yet-to-be-decided charity. Gallegos and Strummor were among those indicted this month in the Region III Housing Authority investigation.

This practice of politicians donating suddenly toxic contributions to charity has become so common in the state I wouldn't be surprised if there are charitable organizations that are starting to get dependant on it.

One weird thing about Denish's announcement, it actually came by way of a press release from her chief of staff Josh Rosen shortly after 10:30 p.m. Friday.

That's right -- after 10:30 p.m. Friday. I've heard of the Friday night news dump, but this is ridiculous. The Albuquerque TV stations were all done with their news programs, and newspapers were way too close to deadline to be reading press releases from the lieutenant governor's office. As for myself, I was a quarter way through my Santa Fe Opry shift on KSFR.

Denish's political director Steve Fitzer assured me today that sending the press release out so late was not part of some strategy to avoid the news cycle. Rosen, he said, was tied up with meetings all day. Still seems weird though.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Traveling With the Legislature

Over the last month or so I've been looking at 2008 travel vouchers for New Mexico legislators. You can read my story in today's New Mexican HERE.

I found it interesting that three lawmakers who were defeated for re-election or didn't seek re-election still got a fair amount of out-of-state travel. Nothing illegal about that -- the Legislative Council voted unanimously to allow it. All three legislators in questions were officers of the national organizations putting on the events or members of committees for those organzations.

The lawmakers who go on these trips insist that the educational value is high and the state benefits from the information and ideas that are shared. Critics question why taxpayers should spend the money to "educate" lame-duck legislators who won't be coming back to next year's session.

There's some lists of who traveled the most, top destinations and travel costs for Santa Fe legislators (which wasn't very much) HERE

Friday, June 19, 2009

Smiley Not Smiling

An Albuquerque grand jury has indicted former Region III Housing Authority director Vincent "Smiley" Gallegos and others stemming from a long investigation related to misuse of bond money.

The seven counts for Gallegos include charges of fraud over $20,000 or in the alternate, embezzlement, fraudulent practices, sale of securities, money laundering and conspiracy.

Others indicted are Albuquerque bond lawyer Robert Strumor, David Hernandez and Dennis Kennedy. Hernandez and Kennedy are former Region III employees.

Gallegos is a former state legislator from Clovis. In 2006 Region III defaulted on $5 million in bonds it sold to the state.

State Republicans were quick to respond:

Today, Harvey Yates Jr., chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico released the following statement concerning the grand jury indictment of former Democratic lawmaker and Region III Housing Authority Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos for his involvement in a scandal related to the state’s housing authority:

“This indictment reinforces a growing sentiment that we need to reverse the path on which this state is headed. For far too long, self-serving political insiders have exploited, at taxpayers’ expense, their positions for personal or political gain.”

Here's the indictments:

Smiley Indictment

Richardson Poll Numbers Creeping Up?

That's what KOB is reporting, citing their latest poll conducted by SurveyUSA.
After hitting an all-time low earlier this year, Governor Bill Richardson’s approval rating continues to climb, but it’s still below 50%.

Eyewitness News 4’s exclusive Survey USA poll finds that 48% of New Mexicans approve of the governor’s job performance. That’s up 2% from our last survey, conducted in late April.

47% of New Mexicans surveyed don’t think the governor is doing a good job and 5% are not sure.

I can't find the link to the new poll on SurveyUSA's site, but I've requested it, so watch this space.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dem Poll Puts Denish Way Ahead of Wilson & Pearce

Like my former colleague Jonathan McDonald once wrote in an old Roundhouse Roundup column, "Polls taken by candidates' campaigns, of course, must be taken with enough salt to turn a bull moose into jerky." Same goes for polls commissioned by groups like the Democratic Governors Association or Republican Governors Association.

But, of course, such polls are fun to look at, so get out the salt and take a gander.

This poll, taken between May 31 and June 4 of 613 "likely voters" in the state, shows Lt. Gov. Diane Denish beating both Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce by a 57 to 35 percent margin. Democrat Denish leads both Anglos and Hispanics and men and women.

The poll, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research of Boulder, Colo. , says Denish is leading in the 1st Congressional District, which Wilson used to represent, by a 53 to 40 percent margin.

Keep in mind neither Wilson nor Pearce, also a former Republican Congressman, have declared they are running for governor. I haven't yet talked to Pearce, who lost the Senate race to Tom Udall last year, about 2010. Wilson has told me -- and several others -- she is seriously considering it.

Here's the poll memo:

Roundhouse Roundup: Palling Around WIth Social Networkers

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 18, 2009

I normally don't read a fraction of the spam e-mail I get in my work account, but somehow I got sucked into one with the subject line, "Special Report: The Dark Side of Social Networking." It's plugging a piece written by a cyberterrorism expert named David Gewirtz, who, in a photo with the e-mail, looks a little sinister himself with his sunglasses, beard and stern expression.
Most of the points mentioned in the ad go along the usual Internet warnings. Don't post pictures or statements on the Web that can get you in trouble with current or future employers. Watch out for viruses and malware. Don't give out personal or financial information. Be careful talking to strangers, etc.

But something that struck me as a political reporter was the line, "... will a log of Twitter or Facebook postings provide future 'palling around with terrorists' albatrosses for candidates in 2012 and beyond?"

Not that I'd ever consider running for public office, but this made me think about who I "pal around with" online.

I don't think there's any terrorists among my Facebook friends. But there are politicians.

Palling around with politicos: When I started out on MySpace a few years ago, in an attempt to maintain my journalistic neutrality, I actually turned down "friendship" requests from politicians and people from special-interest organizations I covered. But eventually I realized I was cutting off myself from potential sources of stories.

For example, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez recently made some headlines when he announced on his Facebook page that he was forming an "exploratory committee" to look at the possibility of running for governor. That story generated buzz partly because there was a possible challenger to Lt. Gov, Diane Denish and partly because a serious potential candidate was announcing this on Facebook.

Suddenly Sanchez was the hip computer-age politician. Never mind the fact that two years ago Sanchez successfully carried a bill that would have scuttled the mandatory electronic filing of campaign finance reports, explaining, "It's for people like me who aren't very good at computers or (who don't have) access to the Internet." (That bill passed the 2007 Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Richardson.)

Unfortunately Sanchez's Facebook page doesn't allow people to become "friends" with him. It only lets you become a "supporter" — and I'm still leery of listing myself as any candidate's "supporter."

Similarly, Denish's Facebook page isn't a personal page. It's a "group" page called Diane Denish for Governor. As of Wednesday night, this page had 156 members. Sanchez has 167 Facebook "supporters."

On the Republican side, former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who is considering a gubernatorial run, just launched her page — and you can be just friends there, though like Sanchez she has a "politician" page for "supporters." (She's got 291 friends and 317 supporters.) Another GOP gubernatorial contender Greg Zanetti also has a Facebook page, where he's got 117 friends. Former state Republican Chairman Allen Weh apparently doesn't have a Facebook page, though he recently started a Twitter account.

The truth is that even though some new-media enthusiasts fantasize about Facebook being a major battleground in the next election, the truth is most politician sites are no more exciting than an average campaign pamphlet.

However, Twitter "tweets" from politicians are a lot better than news releases. Not that they're any less self-serving or predictable. They're just a lot shorter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cooper Refuses to Disclose "Charity" Records

Lawyers for "whistleblower" Frank Foy are asking that former deputy Bill Richardson campaign manager Amanda Cooper be held in contempt of court.

In a motion filed yesterday in state district court, Foy claims that Cooper did not turn over records of the Moving America Forward Foundation, which were subpoenaed in February. (Read Kate Nash's original story HERE.)

MAFF, established by Richardson in 2004, was set up with the stated goal of encouraging minority voting. The foundation collected more than $1.7 million, but by law doesn't have to disclose names of contributors.

In case you've lost track in the scandal jungle, Foy, a former investment officer with the state Education Retirement Board, claims that the ERB as well as the State Investment Council was pressured by former Richardson chief of staff and campaign manager Dave Contarino to invest with Vanderbilt Financial, a Chicago-based company.

In a response to that subpoena Cooper's lawyer says (correctly) that MAFF no longer exists, that producing the records would be an "undue burden" for Cooper and that the documents have no relevance to Foy's suit.

However, Foy's lawyer Victor Marshall says in yesterday's motion points out that Anthony Correra was a MAFF director and his son Marc Correra shared in $22 million in finders fees from Vanderbilt for landing investment deals with the Educational Retirement Board and the State Investment Council.

I haven't tried contacting Cooper yet today. Since the beginning of the year she has not returned calls from me. When I ran into her at a Democratic Party function a few weeks ago she told me there are some things she can't talk about. I suspect this might be one of them.

UPDATE: Here's the motion and other documents related to it.

Motion for Contempt & Enforcement of Subpoena Duces Tecum as FILED 6.16.09

FURTHER UPDATE: Way way down in the documents in the above link is a letter from Cooper's lawyer saying , "We are prepared to produce an affidavit from Ms. Cooper confirming that none of the defendants in the case nor any person or entity mentioned in the complaint ever made any contribution to MAFF."

Full disclosure: Lawyer Marshall has worked for The New Mexican.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On Demons Down That Field

Here's a correction to a Monday press release that I know my former colleague Andy Lenderman (Now with the state Department of Education) didn't want to write.

Yesterday we were informed that Santa Fe High was on one of three New Mexico high schools named by Newsweek as one of "America's Top Public High Schools."

But just a few minutes ago we get a little update:
Newsweek inadvertently included a Santa Fe High School in Florida on the New Mexico listing highlighted in a Monday news release. Santa Fe High’s name on the New Mexico listing will be removed from Newsweek’s online list this week. Newsweek apologizes for the error.

Apparently Moreno Valley High School and Hobbs High School are still on the list.

Gary vs. The Godfather

Look out Don Corleone! Beware Tony Soprano! Gary King is ready for you.

Or at least he will after he gets back from Italy from a special Mafia fighter workshop.

Here's the press release from the Attorney General's Office:

Attorney General Gary King is joining AGs from Mexico and Italy next week to discuss how Italy battles Mafia-related organized crime; the government's collaboration with the civilian sector; and how those efforts can be applied locally.

"The current violence in Mexico is linked to organized crime drug traffickers and it is clearly in New Mexico's best interests to study what Italy has done to address similar crimes," says AG King. "My office has been working closely with our Mexican counterparts to deal with organized crime activities along our border so we all hope to bring back strategies and practices we can employ here."

Attorney General King and the AG's from Idaho and North Dakota are attending the Rome meeting at the invitation of the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG). AGs, other law enforcement and community leaders from five states in Mexico are scheduled to meet with Italian prosecutors, academics, community leaders and others during the week-long summit that gets underway Monday, June 22. AG King will attend the first three days only

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Yellin' and Screamin'

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 11, 2009

Last week, reporters and others were barred from a court deposition of a witness in the Vanderbilt whistle-blower/alleged pay-to-play case.

According to court papers filed this week, the press missed out on some excitement, or at least something you don’t normally encounter at court proceedings involving complex financial matters: “Yelling and screaming” by lawyers.

But while that might sound like fun for a jaded reporter, the 71-year-old woman with serious health problems who was the subject of the deposition surely made an understatement when she described the situation as “stressful.”

A little background: The lawsuit in question was filed by Frank Foy, former investment officer for the state Educational Retirement Board. Foy claims the ERB was pressured by Dave Contarino, former chief of staff and campaign manager for Gov. Bill Richardson, into making a $40 million investment with Vanderbilt Capital Advisors, a Chicago firm. The ERB lost all the money in the Vanderbilt investment. At the same time, the State Investment Council lost $50 million with the company.

Vanderbilt and its employees contributed $15,000 to Richardson’s presidential campaign. And it was revealed after the suit was filed that the politically connected Marc Correra, son of a Richardson adviser and contributor, made $2 million in finder’s fees for the Vanderbilt deals.

Defendants in the case include Vanderbilt, Contarino, ERB Chairman Bruce Malott (whose accounting firm did the books for the Richardson campaign and now is doing the same for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s gubernatorial campaign) and SIC director Gary Bland.

All have vehemently denied wrongdoing.

Pauline “Polly” Turner, a former University of New Mexico professor, was one of two ERB members to vote against the Vanderbilt deal. In January, she told The Associated Press that she did not think the board had been properly educated on the investment instrument known as “collateralized debt obligations,” which was being used by Vanderbilt. She also said the board moved too quickly to approve the deal.

Reasonable limits: Turner, who resigned from the ERB last year because of health reasons, was subjected to what she said was a 10-hour deposition last week.

In her letter to state District Judge Stephen Pfeffer, Turner described her health condition.

“I am 71 years old. I had lung cancer in 2002, which resulted in the removal of 2/5 of my right lung,” she wrote. “I am now in the ‘end stage’ of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which manifests itself in emphysema and chronic bronchitis. I require oxygen 24/7, and am not able to talk continuously for much more than 3 hours. I use a bi-pap machine at night and for a minimum of one hour in the day in order to pump air into my lungs. In addition, I have been treated for high blood pressure for about 20 years. Finally my husband is in his 90s and is legally blind due to macular degeneration.”

Turner wrote, “My purpose in writing to you is to respectfully request that you impose reasonable limits on the remainder of this deposition in order to protect my health. …”

Then she went on describe why unlimited depositions could be bad for her health.

“As I am sure you can imagine, this experience has been very stressful for me with 15 attorneys in the room and others connected remotely. It is especially stressful when these attorneys are yelling and screaming at each other. …”

She asked that the depositions be limited to one more session — of only three hours. Turner requested that to take place Wednesday or today, but that didn’t happen.

Those familiar with the case won’t have a hard time imagining the yelling and screaming by the lawyers involved.

A February news conference called by Foy’s lawyer, Victor Marshall, at an Albuquerque senior-citizen center turned into a raucous shouting match when two defendant lawyers — Marty Esquivel, who represents Malott, and Sam Bregman, who represents Malott’s accounting firm Meyners and Co. — showed up uninvited.

Pfeffer has scheduled a hearing on Turner’s request June 19. I wonder how many voices will be raised there.

CDR Investigation Over?

That's what New Mexico Finance Authority chairman Steve Flance told a legislative oversight committee this afternoon. He said the FBI has wrapped up the investigation and sent it to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Flance said he was told that by NMFA lawyer Rey Romero. Romero told reporters he couldn't say who told him that.

For those trying to grasp all the ongoing financial scandals, the CDR investigation is about the California company that got to handle part of the state transportation bonds for the GRIP program -- around the same time the company made hefty contributions to Gov. Bill Richardson's political committees. This is the investigation that derailed Richardson's appointment as U.S. Commerce secretary.

What Flance said basically confirms what KRQE reported recently, using an anonymous source. However, Flance's statement appears to be the first time that any state official has said it in public.

Flance also made some interesting remarks to the committee about how the Finance Authority got involved in "swaps" and derivatives.

"The mistake we made was listening to financial advsers who had an interest in the work," he said. "Some conflicts of interest were not disclosed to the board."

Flance later told reporters he was refering to an advisory group set up by former Finance Authority director David Harris to look at alternative ways to finance the GRIP project. Advisers on that group included representatives of J.P. Morgan and other companies that later handled some of the bonds, Flance said.

"We thought we were getting independent advise, but (it turned out) they had a product they wanted to sell. That's my own opinion."

Flance said he and other board members have been interviewed by the FBI, who were "friendly" and mainly wanted documents. He said never testified before the CDR grand jury -- and that no current board member or current NMFA staffer has testified. The key word is "current."

It's known that the grand jury is looking at Harris as well as former Richardson chief of staff Dave Contarino, Mike Stratton, who worked as a Richardson presidential campaign official as well as a CDR lobbyist, and Chris Romer, a Colorado state senator who works for J.P. Morgan.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Correra Out of Raton Racetrack

Marc Correra, the Santa Fe investment broker at the center of a recent state investment controversy has withdrawn as a partner in the planned racetrack in Raton.

This just in from the Associated Press:

The state Gaming Control Board has authorized a casino license for a proposed racetrack in the northeastern New Mexico community of Raton. It clears the way for the project to proceed, since the state Racing Commission earlier gave approval for horse racing.

Project manager Michael Moldenhauer says construction activity should begin in the next two weeks.

The board acted after an investor, Marc Correra, said he was withdrawing his application from the project. A news release issued by the Gaming Control Board indicates Correra has decided to focus on other business opportunities.

Board Chairman David Norvell told Moldenhauer the project means a lot to the Raton area and that failure is not an option.

Correra shared in more than $15 million in fees for helping secure business for clients who handled state pension and permanent fund investments. His father Anthony Correra is a contributor to and adviser of Gov. Bill Richardson. Marc Correra's lawyer Sam Bregman has said political connections had nothing to do with his client getting so many fees.

Here's the link to my story about last month's meeting CLICK HERE

UPDATE: Just got a copy of the news release referred to in the Associated Press story. It says the Gaming Control Board received a "communique" from Correra's Chicago attorney saying Correra was withdrawing his application for his "individual finding of suitability in connection with the racetrack/casino application filed by Horse Racing in Raton Limited Partnership."

"Mr. Correra has decided to focus on other business opportunities currently available to him

"The Board respects Mr. Correra's decision and would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for his participation in our licensing process," the news release says. "We compliment him on his professionalism and wish him the very best in his future endeavors."

Lawyer Sam Bregman, Correra and Moldenhauer at last month's Gaming Control Board meeting.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gov. Richardson on American Prisoners in N. Korea

Gov. Richardson spoke Monday on CNN International about American journalists sentenced to 12 years in prison in North Korea. Richardson, who has a history of negotiating release of Americans imprisoned in North Korea, says there are hopeful signs despite the harsh 12-year sentence received by journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

You can read the story on the CNN site.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Political Odd Couple Coming to Santa Fe

To quote The Patty Duke Show theme, "What a wild duet!"

The greatest political odd couple of our time, James Carville and Mary Matalin are coming to Santa Fe this month to give a talk titled "All's Fair: Love, War & Politics" at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

Just in case you somehow missed either of them on any of the talking-head CNN shows they frequent, Carville, aka "The Ragin' Cajun" is a longtime Democratic Party operative and was a bigwig (without the wig) in President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Matalin is a longtime Republican operative and former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to an ad in today's Pasatiempo, the presentation on Saturday June 20 will have "a special focus on bi-partisanship and health care."

Good. If there's one issue that inspires bi-partisanship, it's health care. (I also believe in unicorns and Care Bears.)

The speech is sponsored by the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation and Christus St. Vincent. Tickets are $10 and available at the Lensic box office.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Sonny the Landlord

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 4, 2009

A major contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson's re-election campaign who made $3.2 million on a controversial land deal with the state three years ago is making $26,000 a month as the New Mexico Finance Authority's landlord.

Since March 2005, Sonny Otero and his wife, Lorraine Otero, have leased the three-story building at 207 Shelby St., between Alameda and Water streets, to NMFA.

The lease started out at $18,750 a month for about 12,500 square feet of office space. That figure included utilities and downtown parking spaces for the agency's 36 or so employees. A few months later, NMFA exercised its right of first refusal and leased an additional 2,500 square feet in the building, bringing the monthly rent up to $22,500. That figure also included utilities and parking.

The rent went up again last year. In May 2008, the monthly rent increased to $26,000. The extra money, according to an amendment to the lease contract, was "to cover extraordinary utility costs, insurance, taxes and parking fees."

NMFA Executive Director Bill Sisneros said Wednesday that the bulk of the rent increase went to cover bigger electric bills caused by the agency's computer servers and air conditioners needed to keep them cool. The increase represents about half of the increased electric bill, Sisneros said.

Never talked to governor: Without even being asked about it Wednesday, Sisneros said, "I never talked to Richardson about this."

The assumption that the Richardson/Otero relationship would be on a reporter's mind was logical.

Otero, a Santa Fe building contractor, donated $58,250 to Richardson's 2006 gubernatorial campaign. (Technically, $6,250 of that was contributions from Otero and his wife.)

As revealed by The Albuquerque Journal in 2006, nearly all of that figure, $50,000, was contributed two months after the state bought 12 acres owned by Otero and his family at Valdes Industrial Park, on Santa Fe's southwest side. The Oteros' share of the land deal was $5.9 million. The family had paid $2.7 million for the parcel in 2003. The Journal recently pointed out that more than three years after the state bought that land, it's still vacant and there are no current plans for it.

The New York Times in January wrote about the Otero deal in a story about New Mexico's notorious lack of ethics laws. In that story, both Otero and a Richardson spokesman denied that the governor had any involvement in the land deal.

Otero, who couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, said in 2006 that the price he got was well below market value.

Sisneros said Wednesday that the Richardson contributions weren't part of the considerations that led NMFA to rent from Otero.

Sisneros said when he became the agency's director, NMFA was headquartered in an office compound near Old Santa Fe Trail and St. Michael's Drive. Space was cramped and offices were housed in three separate buildings.

In addition to Otero's Shelby Street building, the agency also looked at office space on Rodeo Road. However, NMFA would have had to pay for improvements plus all utility costs at that location, Sisneros said. The Shelby Street building, he said, was the best deal.

The Finance Authority is a quasi-public agency that issues bonds and makes loans to provide low-cost financing for local and state governmental projects. Sisneros said NMFA handles about $2.9 billion in investments. Though the 12-member authority officially isn't under direct control of the governor, it's made up mostly of department heads and others who are appointed by the governor.

NMFA has been at the center of a grand jury investigation into a possible pay-to-play scheme involving CDR Financial Products, a company that won lucrative work handling the financing of state transportation projects at about the same time it was making more than $100,000 in contributions to Richardson political committees. David Harris, who was NMFA director immediately before Sisneros, is one of the figures involved in the investigation.

Other Sonny contributions: The $50,000 check Otero gave Richardson's campaign in March 2006 is by far the largest political contribution the contractor ever made, checks of state and federal campaign contribution record databases indicate.

Otero also gave $4,600 to Richardson's 2008 presidential campaign, as did his wife, Lorraine. (Half of those contributions were returned because they were earmarked for the general election. Richardson dropped out long before the general election.)

And going back to 2002, Otero gave Richardson $14,000 in his first run for governor.

Although Richardson by far has been the chief beneficiary of Otero's contributions, he's not the only Democratic New Mexico politician to get Otero's help.

Last year, Otero gave $3,550 to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján's campaign and $500 each to U.S. Reps. Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague. Lorraine Otero also gave Luján's campaign $2,300.

In 2006, Sonny Otero contributed $7,500 to Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's re-election campaign.

That same year, he contributed $300 to Mayor David Coss' campaign. In 2004, he gave $750 to Peter Wirth's successful race for a New Mexico House seat. (Wirth is now a state senator.) In 1998, Otero and his wife gave $3,000 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marty Chávez, the Albuquerque mayor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Defendants in Foy Case Won't Turn Over Documents

Here's another case of the state refusing to turn over documents related to the investment scandals. This time it's in the "discovery phase" of the Frank Foy whistle-blowing suit.

State officials as well as the Chicago-based Vanderbilt Financial, which lost $90 million in investments from state pensions and public trust funds, have told the court they won't turn over discovery documents requested in Frank Foy's pay-to-play suit against former Bill Richardson chief of staff and campaign manager Dave Contarino, state Investment Officer Gary Bland, Educational Retirement Board chairman Bruce Malott and others.

In a motion filed in state District Court in Santa Fe last week, Victor Marshall, attorney for Foy, who is a former ERB investment officer, said, "All of the defendants have refused to answer any interrogatories or produce any documents whatsoever, even the most basic documents concerning the transaction giving rise to this lawsuit."

In his response to Foy's discovery motion asking for various documents, Bland said the requests were "vague, overly broad and overly burdensome." Vanderbilt, in its response, uses similar terms, which the plaintiffs call "boilerplate" language.

See my story in the New Mexican on this HERE.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Facebook Candidate

Just a couple of years ago Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez successfully carried a bill that would have scuttled the mandatory electronic filing of campaign finance reports. (It passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Richardson.)

He explained at the time that he wasn't trying to sandbag electronic reports --- which makes it easier for the press and the public to access. “This isn’t trying to hide campaign-finance reports,” he told me in 2007. “It’s for people like me who aren’t very good at computers or access to the Internet.”

That was then, this is now.

This weekend, like some Internet hipster, Sanchez used his Facebook page to announce that he's forming an "exploratory committee" for a possible gubernatorial run.

You don't have to have a Facebook account to check out his page. Just CLICK HERE.