A day before a Santa Fe jury is to begin deliberating on corruption charges against former state Sen. Phil Griego, his lawyer on Wednesday accused three high-ranking state officials who testified during the trial of committing perjury.
During his closing argument in the nearly three-week trial, lawyer Tom Clark of Santa Fe singled out Brett Woods, former deputy secretary of the Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, as well as George Morgan, director of the state’s Facilities Management Division, and Alexis Johnson, top lawyer for the state General Services Department, saying all three had lied on the stand about Griego.
Jurors must now decide whether the former lawmaker is guilty of eight criminal counts including bribery, fraud and perjury for his role in the 2014 sale of state property to owners of an adjacent luxury inn on DeVargas Street near the Capitol. The buyers, the Seret family, paid a $50,000 broker’s fee to Griego, a San José Democrat who prosecutors say helped guide the deal through the state Legislature.
Lawyers with the state Attorney General’s Office, Clara Moran and Sharon Pino, stressed throughout their closing arguments Wednesday that Griego never fully disclosed his role in the transaction. Clark countered that Griego did tell some state officials about his involvement as a broker before the sale was final.
“There’s an element to this case that’s somewhat disturbing to me,” Clark said, reminding jurors that when Johnson, Morgan and Woods testified they were each asked “a very specific question: ‘Did Phil Griego disclose to you his role as a buyer’s agent?’ … Each one of those men, under oath as state’s witnesses, said ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Clark said their answers amounted to perjury because General Services Secretary Ed Burckle testified that he had a “vague memory” of Griego saying that he was involved in the sale during a March 24, 2014, meeting at which the other witnesses were present. But Burckle admitted that he never pressed Griego for specifics about his role in the sale.
“These three men I submit to you committed perjury,” Clark claimed. “They committed perjury, lied to you under oath, and their boss, the Cabinet secretary, ratted them out. … There is nothing dirtier, there’s nothing uglier, nothing more harmful to our criminal justice system than government witnesses lying on the stand.”
Burckle was not the boss of Woods, who worked for another department.
Pino, in her rebuttal, dismissed the idea that the three witnesses had lied.
“All the people the defense counsel said stood up there and perjured themselves, they’re not the ones who got paid,” Pino said. “We have one person at this meeting who has a ‘vague recollection.’ No one else in that room remembered that. … And because it doesn’t fit the defense’s theory … he says they’re committing perjury. So we’re supposed to believe that all these people who didn’t accept one dollar of that $50,000 check are liars [and] that the defendant, who accepted the check, he’s the only one who’s honest.”
Moran, in her two-hour closing, told the jury that despite some of Clark’s arguments, the case was not about whether the sale of the property was good for the state or the Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which owned the property. She said the case wasn’t about the condition of the property, whether or not Griego actually voted on the legislation authorizing the deal, whether Griego’s colleagues should have “put the pieces together or reported his conduct,” or whether Griego was ignorant of the laws he is accused of breaking.
“All of that is a smokescreen to make you think that this conduct was OK,” she said. “This conduct was abhorrent.”
“This is about the defendant,” Moran said, pointing to Griego. “He had the duty to disclose that he had a direct conflict, a direct pecuniary benefit, and he never did that.”
She listed several “golden opportunities” that Griego had to come clean during the legislative process. One was when he presented a resolution allowing the sale to the Senate Rules Committee. Another came the next day when the resolution was heard on the Senate floor.
Moran said Griego’s overall motive throughout the process was to get the $50,000 commission from the Serets. She quoted the testimony of several legislators who said the authorizing legislation never would have passed had lawmakers known that Griego stood to gain financially from the sale.
But Clark noted that only four legislators — out of 112 — testified to that. To assume that the majority of the Legislature felt that way was asking the jury to speculate, he said.
Clark told the jury to be skeptical when considering an agreement that Griego signed with a Senate ethics committee in 2015 following an investigation of the sale.
In that document, Griego acknowledged that he had violated Senate ethics rules as well as the state constitution by using his office to profit from legislation. He admitted that he had been working on the property sale before the 2014 legislative session began.
But Clark said the admissions are not the same thing as admitting to a crime.
During his testimony this week, Griego said he only signed the agreement because he thought it would get the allegations of wrongdoing behind him.
Griego, 69, faces potential penalties of more than 23 years in prison and fines up to $33,000 if convicted on all counts against him.
Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/roundhouse_roundup.