- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New eyewitness accounts of former New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego’s intricate involvement in the sale of a state-owned building emerged in a third day of hearings to determine if he should stand trial on allegations of using his standing as senator to earn a private sales commission.

Griego resigned from the Senate last year and has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts including fraud, bribery, perjury and tampering with public records. The case has spurred calls for state ethics reforms. New Mexico is one of eight states without an independent ethics commission.

Prosecutors on Thursday questioned a Cabinet secretary and other high-ranking state officials as they prodded for instances in which Griego failed to disclose his personal interest as a real estate broker in the sale of a state building in downtown Santa Fe, while facilitating the sale’s approval in the Legislature.

Griego eventually earned a roughly $50,000 sales commission from the owners of the adjacent Inn of the Five Graces - the family of Ira Seret. Provisions of a 2012 lease with the state gave the family the first right to purchase the property at its appraised value if a decision to sell was made.

John Bemis, a former Cabinet secretary for the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources that oversaw the sought-after building, said he had lengthy prior dealings with Griego on legislation and that “we considered him a friend of the department.”

Bemis favored leasing the state building on East De Vargas Street as a steady source of income for an agency division that has to raise a portion of its own operating budget each year.

Bemis was surprised when Griego approached him about a possible sale during an encounter in the state Capitol during the 2013 legislative session, a month before the Cabinet secretary’s retirement. The sale cleared the Legislature a year later.

“Griego mentioned that we need to look at the lease, and that the Serets wanted to buy the building,” Bemis said. “He didn’t say that he was working for the Serets. But it was obvious to me that he was working in some way with the Serets.”

Bemis reported the encounter to his deputy secretary, Brett Woods, who would later become the go-between between Griego and the department as the sale made its way through the Legislature and a state buildings commission.

Woods said he personally favored selling the aging building to reduce the state’s liability for possible structural repairs, and that he did not recall Griego ever disclosing his personal financial interest in the property’s sale.

Defense Attorney Thomas Clark challenged that assertion, saying that other testimony will show that Woods was confronted by an agency colleague who knew of Griego’s financial interest.

In other testimony, the appraiser of the East De Vargas Street property, Michael Dry, also had two run-ins with Griego in March 2014 before and after the market value of the state-owned building was determined. Dry said Griego never discussed his personal interest in the property, and he also did not intervene in the appraisal.

Prosecutors also highlighted evidence that Griego never noted his commission from the sale of the state owned building on a mandatory income-disclosure form for elected officials.

Ken Ortiz, chief of staff at the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, testified that Griego never wrote down his $50,000 broker commission, even after amending his filings.


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