Ex-Sen. Griego pre­pares to take the stand

Lawyer will have for­mer law­maker tes­tify about prop­erty deal in ques­tion

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Ter­rell

Tues­day could be one of the most im­por­tant days of Phil Griego’s life.

The for­mer 18-year state senator from San José, fac­ing eight crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion charges, will be fight­ing for his free­dom as he takes the wit­ness stand in his own de­fense at a trial now in its third week.

Griego’s lawyer, Tom Clark, who had been un­de­cided about putting his client on the stand, told The New Mex­i­can on Mon­day that Griego, 69, will tes­tify about his in­volve­ment in a 2014 sale of state prop­erty near the Capi­tol.

At the cen­ter of the case is the state’s 2014 sale of an old build­ing on DeVar­gas Street to the ad­ja­cent Inn of the Five Graces, an up­scale ho­tel owned by the Seret fam­ily. The Serets paid Griego a $50,000 com­mis­sion for bro­ker­ing the deal. While prose­cu­tors for the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice say this was a bribe, the for­mer leg­is­la­tor has long in­sisted that he did not break any laws.

The prop­erty deal ended Griego’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and put him in jeop­ardy of im­pris­on­ment. A Se­nate ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2015 prompted him to re­sign a week be­fore that year’s leg­isla­tive session ended.

The for­mer senator and his lawyer both have said Griego didn’t start work­ing for the Serets un­til he signed a con­tract in March 2014, a month af­ter the

Leg­is­la­ture voted over­whelm­ingly for a mea­sure au­tho­riz­ing the sale.

Wit­nesses in the trial have de­scribed Griego’s efforts on be­half of the sale.

In early 2013 he ap­proached the sec­re­tary of the Energy, Min­er­als and Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­part­ment — which owned the build­ing — to tell him the Serets, who had a long-term lease on the build­ing, were in­ter­ested in buy­ing it.

Later that year, he lined up an­other law­maker, Rep. Jim Tru­jillo, D-Santa Fe, to spon­sor leg­is­la­tion nec­es­sary for the sale and ap­proached an an­a­lyst with the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil Ser­vice to draft a joint res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing the sale.

Ho­tel owner Ira Seret tes­ti­fied Mon­day that in 2013 he told Griego that if the state wanted to sell the prop­erty he’d be in­ter­ested in buy­ing it. But Seret also said Mon­day that he ini­tially wasn’t sure he wanted to buy be­cause the 25-year lease he had — with an op­tion to re­new for an­other 25 years — was so good.

Seret said he stays out of pol­i­tics and never re­al­ized Griego was a state senator un­til he saw leg­isla­tive li­cense plates on Griego’s truck when the deal closed in June 2014.

When the 2014 leg­isla­tive session be­gan, wit­nesses say Griego pre­sented the bill au­tho­riz­ing the trans­ac­tion at a Se­nate com­mit­tee hear­ing. Dur­ing a sub­se­quent Se­nate floor de­bate, in which the bill was pre­sented by Sen. Car­los Cis­neros, D-Questa, Griego did not cor­rect false in­for­ma­tion pro­vided con­cern­ing the sale. Cis­neros had re­peated bad in­for­ma­tion from the Energy De­part­ment that was con­tained in a fis­cal im­pact re­port.

Most leg­is­la­tors who have tes­ti­fied say Griego never tried to pres­sure them to sup­port the joint res­o­lu­tion. How­ever, for­mer House Speaker Ken Martinez last week de­scribed in de­tail how an anx­ious Griego came into his of­fice im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing a meet­ing in which the state Capi­tol Build­ings Plan­ning Com­mis­sion de­cided to de­lay a re­quired re­view of the sale. Griego, the for­mer speaker said, strongly urged him to call the com­mis­sion back into session that day. Martinez re­fused to do that.

Martinez said that he re­al­ized that day that Griego — who re­ferred to the sale as “my deal” and said he had to close that day — must have some stake in the trans­ac­tion. He tes­ti­fied that he called Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and talked to her about his con­cerns re­gard­ing Griego be­ing in­volved in the sale.

How­ever, Papen tes­ti­fied Mon­day that while she re­mem­bered talk­ing to Martinez some­time af­ter the com­mis­sion meet­ing she doesn’t re­mem­ber talk­ing to him about Griego. She said she had heard some “scut­tle­butt” from other law­mak­ers about Griego’s pos­si­ble in­volve­ment.

“In the Round­house,” she said, “gos­sip swirls.”

Griego, a Demo­crat who once served on the Santa Fe City Coun­cil, was elected to the Se­nate in 1996 and was re-elected four times from District 39, a sprawl­ing, mostly ru­ral district that stretches from San Miguel County through the south­east­ern part of Santa Fe County down to the north­ern reaches of Lin­coln County.

LUIS SÁNCHEZ SATURNO/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

For­mer Sen. Phil Griego sits in district court Mon­day dur­ing his trial. Griego is ex­pected to take the stand on Tues­day.

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