- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Former New Mexico state Sen. Phil Griego pleaded not guilty on Monday to fraud and bribery charges in a long-simmering political scandal over his role in the sale of a state-owned building. Prosecutors say he orchestrated the sale from his Senate seat and then earned a commission from the buyer without disclosing his personal interest as required. The Democrat with a lengthy family history in Santa Fe politics resigned from the Senate last year but now says he did nothing wrong. Here is a look at the case as it moves into the courts.

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WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS?

State Attorney General Hector Balderas has filed 10 criminal counts against Griego, including fraud, perjury, tampering with public records, and bribery.

Prosecutors say Griego used his role as a senator to orchestrate the sale of a state-owned building, just a block from the state capitol in downtown Santa Fe. As a representative of the buyer, he earned a $51,000 commission, an interest in the deal he failed to disclose to the Legislature.

The ex-senator also is accused of deceiving other lawmakers when he indicated the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would pay more to maintain the building than it received by leasing the property, when maintenance costs actually were borne by the company leasing the property. Griego later allowed that false assertion to go unchallenged on the Senate floor, prosecutors say.

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WHAT IS GRIEGO’S REPONSE?

Greigo denies wrongdoing. He arrived at an arraignment Monday in a black cowboy hat and was released without bail pending trial.

Griego’s 20-year Senate career ended with his resignation in March 2015 after a legislative ethics commission found he violated provisions of the state Constitution.

The case could hinge on an ethics rule that says lawmakers cannot be even indirectly interested in “any contract with the state or a municipality authorized by any law passed during the legislators’ terms for one year thereafter.”

Griego says he didn’t know about the one-year rule.

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ARE OTHERS IMPLICATED?

No one else is expected to be charged.

Prosecutors say Griego misled colleagues into sponsoring legislation and repeating misinformation to enable the property sale. A list of 40 witnesses attached to criminal charges reads like a who’s who of the Legislature and state government. A preliminary hearing on evidence is required within 60 days.

An agency that helps lawmakers draft legislation is refusing to release information subpoenaed by prosecutors without Griego’s consent because of state rules shielding those communications from public view.

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ARE STEPS BEING TAKEN TO PREVENT SIMILAR PROBLEMS?

Griego’s prosecution has stoked calls for ethics and campaign reforms. Efforts to create an independent state ethic commission have been derailed so far over worries it could become a forum for false accusations designed to inflict political damage.

As recently as January, Griego continued to contemplate another run for public office using an active campaign account containing some $40,000.


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