The names of the corrupt New Mexico officials who help fuel the effort to establish a state ethics commission — a roll call that includes Michael Montoya, Robert Vigil, Manny Aragon, Dianna Duran and Phil Griego — have begun to fade into history. But there are still plenty of ongoing scandals. Even though the new commission likely won’t be looking into these particular cases (some already are in the courts; some involve local, not state government), the regularity of these stories is a good indication that there will be plenty to keep the commission busy in the next few years.
So perhaps a New Mexico Scandal Scorecard is in order.
Former Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla: Padilla, one of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s longest-serving and highest-profile Cabinet secretaries, is accused of embezzling $25,000 from a former private client of her accounting business and interfering in a state audit of that client, a Sandoval County trucking company. She was initially charged with eight corruption counts, but through the legal process, her lawyer, Paul Kennedy, successfully has convinced judges to drop all but one charge, engaging in an official act for personal financial gain, a fourth-degree felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 18 months of incarceration. However, state Attorney General Hector Balderas has appealed the dropping of several of those charges, delaying Padilla’s trial, which was supposed to begin this summer. That means the case will be on hold, probably for several months,
Las Vegas Mayor Tonita Gurulé-Girón: For the past couple of years, the best way to sum up the never-ceasing political circus in the Town that Wouldn’t Gamble might be summed up by the late Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Roseannadanna: “It’s always something — if it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” Gurulé-Girón’s administration has spawned more lawsuits than I can remember, most recently from a former deputy police chief, an African American who claims racial discrimination. A majority of her City Council wants to remove her from office, but the mayor has thwarted them by not allowing a removal resolution to be put on the council agenda. But her biggest problem currently is the fact the attorney general last month raided her home and office looking for evidence of bid-rigging. Gurulé-Girón is up for reelection next March, so it’s quite possible that Las Vegas voters will decide her political fate before the attorney general or the City Council has a chance to. (But this is New Mexico, so I’m not taking any bets on that election.)
State Sen. Richard Martinez: The Española Democrat, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been lying low since his arrest for drunken driving last month after an automobile crash and the release of an embarrassing police video of Martinez claiming he didn’t know why he was being charged. The attorney general will prosecute the case after District Attorney Marco Serna’s announcement that he’s passing on the case “to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Not to downplay the seriousness of driving while intoxicated, I still believe the worst part of this scandal is the fact that a state police officer was caught on a video recording asking whether officers should remove Martinez’s state Senate license plate from public view. The state police have said they are investigating that officer, but because of rules surrounding police internal investigations, I wouldn’t bet on the result of that investigation being made public anytime soon.
Susana’s settlements: Just days before Gov. Susana Martinez left office in December, her General Services Department settled several sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits by former state police officers and Department of Public Safety employees claiming sexual harassment by former state police Chief Pete Kassetas. Not only that, but state lawyers also sealed those settlements to keep them out of the public view for five years. Both Kassetas and his accusers have said a determining factor in the settlements was the discovery of a tape of a telephone conversation between one of the plaintiffs and Martinez’s husband, a tape that could be damaging to the former governor’s reputation. New General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz has said his agency won’t honor the five-year seal and will begin posting the settlements online next month.