- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

SANTA FE, N.M. | New Mexico’s top federal prosecutor confirmed Friday that no charges will be brought against Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and his former top aides after a probe of a suspected pay-to-play scheme, but U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said the decision “is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.”

In a letter to defense attorneys, Mr. Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation “revealed that pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process” so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.

At a news conference in Havana, where he was wrapping up a weeklong trade mission, Mr. Richardson refused to comment on the Justice Department investigation beyond saying, “I’m not talking about that.”

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Friday that Mr. Fouratt’s letter “is wrong on the facts and appears to be nothing more than sour grapes.”

The governor was President Obama’s first choice for secretary of commerce, but was forced to withdraw his name early this year because of the political fallout from the probe.

The decision not to seek indictments was made by Justice Department officials in Washington, according to two people familiar with the case. The sources, interviewed before Mr. Fouratt’s letter was released, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the case.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was not involved in the decision to end the case, according to a Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the decision.

Mr. Fouratt did not return telephone messages seeking further comment.

After 11 years as a federal prosecutor, Mr. Fouratt was elevated to U.S. attorney in January 2008 when a panel of New Mexico federal judges, addressing a vacancy, determined a presidential appointment wasn’t imminent and exercised its authority to fill the position.

Joseph diGenova, a Republican and former U.S. attorney during the Ronald Reagan administration, called Mr. Fouratt’s letter “stupid” because it makes allegations of corruption after the case is over.

“That letter is an outrage and the U.S. attorney who wrote it should be fired. The case is closed. If he had charges, bring them. Otherwise, he should shut up. He’s being a politician now, not a prosecutor,” Mr. diGenova said.

Mr. Richardson took office as governor in 2003, having served as a congressman from New Mexico, a roving diplomatic troubleshooter and as President Clinton’s energy secretary and U.N. ambassador.

The U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico began an investigation last year into the hiring of a Richardson political donor, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based CDR Financial Products Inc., as a financial adviser on state transportation bond deals. The work generated almost $1.5 million in fees for CDR in 2004-2005.

CDR Chief Executive Officer David Rubin and his firm contributed $110,000 to Richardson political committees from 2003 to 2005. The largest of those contributions, $75,000, was made less than a week before CDR was selected in June 2004 by the New Mexico Finance Authority to handle the reinvestment of idle bond proceeds.

Investigators reviewed whether Mr. Richardson’s former chief of staff, David Contarino, played a role in the hiring of CDR. A grand jury subpoenaed records from the governor’s office about CDR and former Richardson aide David Harris and Mike Stratton, a political adviser.

The Richardson administration continues to face pay-to-play allegations in a whistleblower lawsuit brought in state court.

A former chief investment officer for the state’s educational retirement program has charged that political considerations influenced state investment decisions. Mr. Contarino and other Richardson appointees are named as defendants in the lawsuit. They assert there was no wrongdoing.

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