‘There was a lot of stuff I could have done dif­fer­ent’

For­mer state Sen. Griego gives teary, testy tes­ti­mony in his pub­lic cor­rup­tion trial

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Ter­rell SAMI EDGE/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

Phil Griego choked back tears Tues­day as he read aloud his 2015 let­ter of res­ig­na­tion from the New Mex­ico Se­nate while tes­ti­fy­ing in his trial on eight crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion charges.

“It says I resign with a heavy heart be­cause I have so much re­spect for the body,” an emo­tional Griego said, an­swer­ing a ques­tion from his lawyer, Tom Clark.

But within a cou­ple of hours, Griego got testy at times when ques­tioned by a pros­e­cu­tor from the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

When pros­e­cu­tor Mark Probasco asked if var­i­ous ac­tions by Griego showed “re­spect for the Se­nate,” the for­mer law­maker took an an­gry tone.

“Lis­ten. My re­spect for the Se­nate goes way be­yond this sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “My re­spect for the Se­nate goes back 18 years. … My re­spect for the Se­nate goes deeper than this sit­u­a­tion. And you have no idea be­cause you’ve never been a se­na­tor, so you don’t un­der­stand what the Se­nate is all about.”

When Probasco asked whether a dif­fer­ent set of rules ap­plied to him, Griego snapped “Of course not. What are you in­sin­u­at­ing?”

The 69-year-old Demo­crat from San Jose faces the pos­si­bil­ity of decades be­hind bars if con­victed of bribery, fraud, per­jury and other charges for tak­ing a $50,000 com­mis­sion check from the own­ers of the up­scale Inn of the Five Graces af­ter they ac­quired a state-owned build­ing lo­cated across De Var­gas Street from the inn. Pros­e­cu­tors say he used his po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion and savvy as a real es­tate bro­ker to steer the deal through state gov­ern­ment chan­nels.

Griego ac­knowl­edged that he could have been more trans­par­ent about his per­sonal in­volve­ment in the trans­ac­tion but main­tains he broke no laws be­cause he didn’t sign a con­tract with the inn’s own­ers, the Seret fam­ily, un­til af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture passed a res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing the sale in 2014. But pros­e­cu­tors ar­gue that Griego had been push­ing the sale for months be­fore the Se­nate voted on it, say­ing he dis­cussed the mat­ter with the state agency that owned the build­ing and ar­ranged to have the res­o­lu­tion drafted, re­cruited a spon­sor and even pre­sented the res­o­lu­tion be­fore

a Se­nate com­mit­tee.

A hand­writ­ten ques­tion to Griego from one ju­ror — read aloud Tues­day by state Dis­trict Judge Brett Love­less — might in­di­cate that at least one mem­ber of the panel be­lieves Griego had a con­flict of in­ter­est.

“Hav­ing had time to sit with this sit­u­a­tion, do you still feel that there was not a con­flict of of in­ter­est, though it clearly states in the rules of ethics that a leg­is­la­tor is not to solely ben­e­fit fi­nan­cially [from leg­is­la­tion]?” the ju­ror asked. “What are your cur­rent thoughts on full dis­clo­sure and/or seek­ing ap­proval to en­sure a con­flict does not ex­ist?”

Griego an­swered, “I’ve thought about this for the last three years, and there are a lot of things that I could have done dif­fer­ent and I should have done dif­fer­ent. But at the time, in my mind, I had no di­rect con­flict. I was try­ing to avoid an ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety at the time.

“But think­ing back over the last three years, there was a lot of stuff I could have done dif­fer­ent, that I should have done dif­fer­ent, but in my mind, I was do­ing the right thing,” Griego said. “I never in­tended to lie and cheat or steal from any­body. … In ret­ro­spect, yeah, I could have done a lot of things dif­fer­ent. But I didn’t be­cause, again, I thought I was un­der the im­pres­sion that I had com­mit­ted no vi­o­la­tion of the ethics [code of] con­duct. … I have been think­ing about this for three years.”

Dur­ing his time on the stand Tues­day, Griego sev­eral times ex­pressed re­gret about not dis­clos­ing his connection to the sale.

Clark asked Griego why — when he asked Rep. Jim Tru­jillo, D-Santa Fe, to spon­sor the res­o­lu­tion — he didn’t men­tion that he’d promised to help ho­tel owner Ira Seret in buy­ing the state prop­erty.

“In ret­ro­spect, I guess I should have,” Griego said. “As a mat­ter of fact, I should have told the whole world.”

Asked about not pub­licly dis­clos­ing his role on the Se­nate floor be­fore a Fe­bru­ary 2014 vote on the res­o­lu­tion, Griego said, “In ret­ro­spect, I prob­a­bly should have just ex­plained. Had I done that, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be sit­ting here to­day.”

Griego’s ver­sion of events di­rectly con­tra­dicted the tes­ti­mony of for­mer House Speaker Ken Martinez. Martinez last week de­scribed how an anx­ious Griego in April 2014 showed up in his of­fice im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing a meet­ing in which the state Capi­tol Build­ings Plan­ning Com­mis­sion de­cided to de­lay ac­tion on the prop­erty sale. Martinez said Griego in­sisted that he call the com­mis­sion back into ses­sion that day, say­ing “my deal” had to close that day. Martinez re­fused.

But Griego said Tues­day that the for­mer speaker “mis­spoke.” Griego said he knew then how fruit­less it would be to try to herd com­mis­sion mem­bers back into ses­sion af­ter they had ad­journed.

Griego also con­tra­dicted his own pre­vi­ous ac­count of the 2014 Se­nate floor vote on the leg­is­la­tion that au­tho­rized the prop­erty sale. In a 2014 phone in­ter­view with a reporter — a record­ing of which was played for the jury last week — Griego in­sisted that he had voted in fa­vor of the res­o­lu­tion and said there was no con­flict.

How­ever, on the wit­ness stand, Griego said he “took a walk” and left the Se­nate cham­ber im­me­di­ately be­fore the vote. A video of the vote, which has been played sev­eral times for the jury, shows him do­ing just that. He said he did that to “avoid the ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety.”

When free­lance reporter Peter St. Cyr in the sum­mer of 2014 ap­proached Griego af­ter a com­mit­tee meet­ing, he showed Griego the of­fi­cial Se­nate vote tally, which showed that he voted in fa­vor of the res­o­lu­tion. And this shocked Griego.

“My heart went to my throat first, be­cause I was sure I’d taken a walk. … I never in­tended to vote,” Griego told the jury. “I in­tended to take a walk.” The next time he talked to St. Cyr, in the recorded in­ter­view played for the jury, he said he had been wrong ear­lier and that he had voted in fa­vor of the leg­is­la­tion.

Asked to ex­plain the con­flict­ing ver­sions, Griego said the ac­count he gave from the wit­ness stand was cor­rect.

Clark asked Griego about the agree­ment he signed with a Se­nate ethics com­mit­tee shortly be­fore re­sign­ing from the Se­nate. In that doc­u­ment, Griego ad­mit­ted to vi­o­lat­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion and Se­nate ethics rules by prof­it­ing from the land sale.

Asked why he signed the doc­u­ment, Griego said, “I thought this would end the ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tion and all this would be over.”

But it didn’t end, Griego said. “It opened up a door.”

Clos­ing ar­gu­ments in the trial are ex­pected to be­gin Wed­nes­day morn­ing, and the case is ex­pected to go to the jury Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

For­mer state Sen. Phil Griego sits on the wit­ness stand Tues­day dur­ing his pub­lic cor­rup­tion trial. The 69-yearold Demo­crat from San Jose faces the pos­si­bil­ity of decades be­hind bars if con­victed of bribery, fraud, per­jury and other charges for tak­ing a $50,000 com­mis­sion check from the own­ers of the up­scale Inn of the Five Graces af­ter they ac­quired a state-owned build­ing lo­cated across De Var­gas Street from the inn.


Lawyers con­fer with the judge over an ob­jec­tion as for­mer state Sen. Phil Griego, right, sits in the wit­ness stand Tues­day dur­ing his pub­lic cor­rup­tion trial.

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