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Former secretary of state indicted on 50 counts

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By Carol A. Clark

A grand jury has returned indictments against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron and three others, alleging misuse of public money. 

Attorney General Gary King said Wednesday that the grand jury handed down a 50-count indictment including charges of fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering and receiving illegal kickbacks. 

The charges stem from federal tax dollars used under the Help America Vote, which educated people about voting through the use of TV commercials.

An audit of the program revealed some $3 million dollars was unaccounted for.

“The responsibility of elected officials and high government officials is to be ethical in the application of their positions and if they’re not doing that they’re subjecting themselves to this type of investigation and potential prosecution,” Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy said during an interview this morning. “I really applaud our new District Attorney Spence Pacheco for creating a Public Integrity Unit to address these types of issues.”

Angela “Spence” Pacheco took office as First Judicial DA Jan. 1 and participated in a program discussing the new Public Integrity Unit in May.

The D.A.’s office has authority to investigate any agency that receives public money from the governor’s office down to the smallest entity.

The Public Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes wrongdoing related to state and local governments including misuse of state property, theft, misapplication or contract fraud, falsification of documents, election code violations, finance reporting violations and ethics violations that are criminal in nature.

The unit also investigates and prosecutes public officials involved in fraud, forgery, embezzlement misconduct of officials and bribery.

Los Alamos Magistrate Judge Pat Casados spoke about the grand jury process this morning saying that the grand jury is not the trial.

“I would like to advise the public that while the grand jury system is a good system, it’s important to understand that not every fact is presented to the grand jury,” Casados said. “All the facts will come out at trial.”

Vigil-Giron initially claimed she could account “for every last nickel” of federal money spent on a voter education project that has been the target of a grand jury and a state attorney general investigation.

Vigil-Giron was criticized for spending too much money on the spots, which swelled to hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, according to reports.

A consultant responsible for the voter education campaign, Armando Gutierrez and husband and wife lobbyists Joe and Elizabeth Kupfer also have been indicted and face 50 felony counts each as well.

Vigil-Giron and Gutierrez conspired to steal tax payer money; hiding their actions through money laundering, according to prosecutors.

Gutierrez produced Spanish-language ads for President Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign and Al Gore’s 2000 presidential race and worked on Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

The Kupfers are lobbyists for the city of Albuquerque and other clients.

Each of the defendants is charged with four counts of fraud over $20,000 (or, in the alternative, four counts of embezzlement over $20,000); 11 counts of money laundering over $100,000; five counts of money laundering over $20,000; eight counts of tax fraud; conspiracy, tampering with evidence and various other charges.

If convicted of all counts, the maximum sentence for each defendant would be more than 20 years in prison.   

Vigil-Giron had no comment Tuesday as she left a courthouse where a Bernalillo County grand jury was looking into the use of millions of dollars in federal voter education funds while she was in office.

Vigil-Giron declined to discuss the indictments when contacted Wednesday.

She referred a reporter to a written statement she released earlier in the day, in which she called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

She also said attorneys at the Attorney General’s Office signed off on the 2004 contract with Gutierrez to produce “voter education” television spots.

In her statement, Vigil-Giron said, “It appears to my supporters and to me, that those individuals who have never supported my efforts on behalf of the state of New Mexico are continuing their attacks on my reputation and my integrity for the wrong reasons. They are threatened and are afraid that I might run for another public office.”

Vigil-Giron’s lawyer, Robert Gorence, told The Associated Press that he wanted a trial as soon as possible, preferably within the next three months, “because I have that confidence in the outcome when a jury hears all the facts.”

In 2004, Vigil-Giron’s office paid Gutierrez about $6.3 million in federal election funds. In early 2008, a federal audit said Gutierrez could only account for about $2.6 million of the company’s costs.

This discrepancy prompted a scathing audit last year from the federal Election Assistance Commission and early this year from the State Auditor’s Office. 

The state report said Vigil-Giron paid Gutierrez $323,060 more than the maximum amount allowed under the contract.

The indictments spell out a complex series of transactions involving large a mounts of money transferred to Gutierrez’s bank account, then transferred to another Gutierrez account, then to an account belonging to the Kupfers.

The indictments also refer to four “false public vouchers” beginning in September 2004, and a false memorandum dated Sept. 2, 2004, which, the document charges, was created sometime between September 2004 and April 2007. 

Vigil-Giron, who served three terms as secretary of state, left office at the end of 2006. She ran for a congressional seat in the Democratic primary last year, losing to Martin Heinrich, who went on to win the general election.

In 2007, Richardson announced he was hiring her as director of the state Film Museum, but put the hiring on hold because of the investigation of the election funds. She later was hired by the state Workforce Solutions Department. 

Vigil-Giron is the latest New Mexico political figure to be indicted in cases brought by King.

Also facing charges are Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. and his father, former PRC member Jerome Block Sr., and former legislator and Region III Housing Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos.

The Blocks are accused of mishandling public campaign funds, while Gallegos is accused of embezzling funds from the affordable housing agency he directed.  

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.