- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Witnesses called to testify Tuesday in a fraud case against former state Sen. Phil Griego told prosecutors they were left guessing about the lawmaker’s involvement in the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe that would later earn Griego a $51,000 commission.

Prosecutors are seeking to bring Griego to trial in state district court as they provide evidence and testimony to try to back up of charges of fraud, bribery, tampering with public records and violating ethical principles of public service.

The former Democratic Senator from San Miguel County has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remained silent in court on the first of four days of evidentiary hearings to decide whether the case warrants a trial. Prosecutors contend Griego used his role as a senator to profit from the property sale. They played a video tape of Griego leaving the Senate floor in February 2014 as colleagues cast the final vote on whether to oppose the land sale. Just three Senators voted no.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark highlighted in his cross examination of witnesses that the real estate deal was vetted by legislative analysts, state-approved appraisers and the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources that oversaw the building a block from the state capitol. Griego, he noted repeatedly, did not officially sign an agreement to represent a private buyer of the property until late-March 2014, after the state Legislature had authorized the sale.

Prosecutors allege that Griego deceived other lawmakers into supporting the sale by indicating in a committee hearing that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would pay more to maintain the building in downtown Santa Fe than it received by leasing the property - when maintenance costs actually were borne by the company leasing the property.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino testified Tuesday that he might have asked more questions as a member of the Senate rules committee if he had known that information was inaccurate, though it might not have changed his final vote.

He acknowledged that a fiscal impact report prepared by legislative analysts contained the same inaccurate information, but said legislators rely on fellow lawmakers to correct the record if they know better.

“The reality is that these votes are coming so fast and furious that you’re frequently relying on your colleagues,” he said.

On questions related to Greigo’s eventual commission from the sale, Ortiz y Pino spoke in general terms only.

“Our (Senate) rule says that if you have a conflict of interest you need to let the body know about that,” he said.

Griego’s two-decade Senate career ended with his resignation in March 2015 after a Senate ethics subcommittee found he violated provisions of the state Constitution.

Prosecutors also called on freelance journalists Peter St. Cyr to testify about a lengthy telephone interview he conducted with Griego in July 2014. A recording of the interview was played in court in which Griego says that he did indeed vote for the land-sale resolution on the Senate floor, but that his real estate agreement with a private buyer came later.

The court also heard testimony John Mahoney, an Albuquerque-based real estate broker who took on Griego as an assistant broker in 2012, and again later after Griego resigned from the Senate.

Prosecutors allege that Griego defrauded Mahoney by leaving his firm and finalizing the state building sale with another partner. Mahoney testified that Griego chatted with him once about the state property on East De Vargas Street but never disclosed any significant work on the sale as a partner.

At the same time, Mahoney also said he never believed he was owed additional money by Griego and that criminal charges against Griego came as a surprise to him.

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