Former Sen. Griego to plead guilty in campaign finance case

Former state Sen. Phil Griego listens in February as District Judge Brett Loveless hands down his sentence of 18 months in prison and a $47,000 fine for his convictions on corruption charges. Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mexican file photo

Former state Sen. Phil Griego, who already is serving prison time for corruption, will plead guilty this month to criminal charges in a separate case related to his campaign finance reports.

According to court documents, the plea hearing is set for Aug. 20 in Albuquerque before state District Judge Brett Loveless, who presided over Griego’s three-week trial last year in the previous case. A jury found the the San José Democrat guilty of five criminal counts, including bribery and fraud.

Griego, 70, is serving an 18-month sentence in a Los Lunas prison. He also was fined $47,000. His lawyer, Tom Clark, has said he expects Griego to serve only about half of the prison time.

Griego’s second case involves 22 criminal counts — 20 of which are felonies — stemming from his campaign finance reports filed between 2012 and 2016. These charges include 13 perjury counts and five counts of embezzlement.

It’s not clear how much additional time, if any, the former lawmaker will have to serve in prison after pleading guilty to several counts in the second case. Clark said Wednesday he couldn’t go into details about the plea deal because a judge hadn’t signed it yet.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, said Wednesday that a copy of the agreement was not available.

This criminal case is the most serious involving alleged campaign finance violations in New Mexico, at least since former Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. falsified his campaign finance reports during his 2008 campaign. Block eventually admitted he’d filed a report falsely claiming he’d paid a band $2,500 to play at one of his campaign events. The event never took place, and the band was not paid.

Griego’s indictment claims he embezzled $7,337 from his own campaign funds. But affidavits from Mark Pinto, an investigator for the Attorney General’s Office, indicate there were more questionable transactions.

In addition to the embezzlement charges — crimes Griego is accused of committing between 2012 and 2014 — Pinto found that Griego had written six checks on the campaign account totaling more than $12,000 between October 2015 and January 2016, none of which were reported in his campaign finance reports.

Pinto has said in sworn affidavits that Griego had written more than 40 checks from his campaign fund since 2012 that never were reported to the secretary of state, as required by law.

Griego’s previous case centered on his role during the 2014 legislative session in pushing through legislation authorizing the sale of a state-owned building on De Vargas Street to Ira Seret, owner of the adjacent Inn of the Five Graces. Seret paid Griego a $50,000 broker’s fee for his efforts.

Griego is a former Santa Fe city councilor who represented a south-side district in the 1980s and most of the ’90s. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1996. He abruptly resigned from the Legislature a week before the end of its 2015 session, following a closed-door Senate ethics investigation of the property sale.

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