April 4, 2016

Former Senator pleads not guilty to corruption charges

Phil Griego made his first appearance in court on Monday after being charged with ten crimes related to alleged corruption.

Griego pleaded not guilty to the charges connected to the same scandal that resulted in his resignation from the state Senate last year. Griego he violated the state constitution and Senate rules because of a land swap involving a building in Santa Fe when he announced his resignation.

In all, the Democrat from San Juan faces ten charges, including felonies.

The state asked for $25,000 bond, but the judge ruled there would be no bond because she didn’t think Griego is a public threat. He was instead released on his own recognizance.

After the Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Griego at the end of February, Griego defended himself in an interview with NM Political Report.

At the time, Griego called the charges “ludicrous” and said that “it doesn’t make any sense.”

He also vowed to fight the charges to the very end and prove his innocence.

Griego’s attorney, Tom Clark, spoke to media afterward according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“This is a little disconcerting — he’s never faced anything like this before — but he’s holding up fine,” Clark said.

Just getting the hearing was a bit of an ordeal. Seven judges recused themselves before Judge Sarah Singleton accepted the case.

A preliminary hearing will likely take place next month and is expected to last multiple days.

Griego did not carry the legislation that let the land swap go forward, though the Attorney General’s Office says the former Senator orchestrated its passage.

The Santa Fe Reporter first reported on the land deal in 2014. That story focused on Griego brokering the sale of a Santa Fe building for the Seret family.

The family had a lease with the state on the building that included a clause that gave them the first right of purchase at fair market value if the state ever decided to sell the property.

Griego engineered legislation that would allow for the sale when he asked Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, to carry the legislation for him.

Griego never voted on the legislation itself, but he still violated Senate Rules and the state constitution after he personally profited from the land swap so soon after the legislation’s passage.

Griego also allegedly pressured the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission to review the deal; the commission had no authority to reject the deal but the legislation required a review for the deal to go through.