Ex-Sen. Griego prepares to take the stand
Lawyer will have former lawmaker testify about property deal in question
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.
Former Sen. Phil Griego sits in district court Monday during his trial. Griego is expected to take the stand on Tuesday.