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Former NM SoS Indicted on Misuse of Over Million Dollars in HAVA Funds

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 8/21/09

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A few years ago, I did a little free-lance investigation of Rebecca Vigil-Giron, former Secretary of State of New Mexico, online. All kinds of red flags went up for me about her. But, as in so many other cases, I had nothing illegal I could point to.

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She and several others now stand accused of 50 counts including fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion, and kickbacks involving over a million dollars in HAVA money, during her time as NM SOS, during the 2006 election cycle. Hell, there's even one count of conspiracy!

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Some of the money was to be spent on "voter education." Some of us have previously found this to be a slippery and/or suspicious area of expenditures, in various areas of the country.

(One also has to wonder, too -- if the charges against Vigil-Giron are founded, was this JUST a self-enrichment plan for a few people, or were any funds used to bribe anyone to perform or cover up actual vote theft or diversion. Just wondering.)

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Pokey Anderson
Below are several stories on this breaking news.
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Prosecutors allege the theft of millions of dollars
Vigil-Giron and other defendants each face 50 counts in indictments issued today by grand jury
Posted 8/19/2009
Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics
http://haussamen.blogspot.com/2009/08/prosecutors-allege-plot-to-steal.html
Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and the others indicted today by a state grand jury each face 50 counts including money laundering, fraud, soliciting or receiving kickbacks and tax evasion in the alleged theft of millions of dollars.

The others indicted are lobbyists Joseph Kupfer and Elizabeth Kupfer and Armando Gutierrez, who headed the company Vigil-Giron hired to help the state implement a federal voter education program.

Joseph Kupfer was a lobbyist for the secretary of state. Elizabeth Kupfer, his wife, was the administrative services director for the Attorney General's Office at the time in question.

The 50 counts against each include:

" Four counts of fraud over $20,000 or, in the alternative, embezzlement over $20,000.
" 11 counts of money laundering over $100,000.
" Five counts of money laundering over $20,000.
" Eight counts of tax fraud.
" 13 counts of tax evasion.
" Four counts of making or permitting false public vouchers.
" One count of soliciting or receiving an illegal kickback.
" One count of offering or paying an illegal kickback.
" Two counts of tampering with evidence.
" One count of conspiracy.

You can read the indictment against Vigil-Giron by clicking here. The others aren't yet online, but are similar.

Vigil-Giron has not returned a call seeking comment. Attorneys for Vigil-Giron and Gutierrez had little to say to the New Mexico Independent. Elizabeth Kupfer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The details

The AG's investigation came after a federal audit found severe mismanagement of federal Help America Vote Act funds by Vigil-Giron's administration during the 2006 election cycle. Vigil-Giron, who left office at the end of 2006 because of term limits, says the audit is flawed and has repeatedly insisted that no wrongdoing occurred on her watch.

Vigil-Giron used federal funds to pay Gutierrez's firm $6.3 million for advertising and voter education work leading up to the 2006 election. The federal audit found that the company can't account for how more than $2 million of that money was spent.

The indictments allege a wide-ranging scheme that's in some ways similar to the metro court scandal. For example, according to the indictments, a $2 million voucher from the state treasury was deposited in the account of Gutierrez between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, 2004. That voucher was based on a false invoice, the indictment states.

Then, between Oct. 1 and Oct. 7, 2004, a $140,000 check from Gutierrez was deposited in the account of the Kupfers. Similar transactions occurred several times between 2004 and 2006, according to the indictment.

Interestingly, while Vigil-Giron is charged with soliciting or receiving an illegal kickback and offering or paying an illegal kickback just like the others, the indictments don't state that she profited financially from the scheme. The only bank transactions listed involve Gutierrez and the Kupfers.

Posted by Heath Haussamen. E-mail him at heath@haussamen.com.

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Vigil-Giron 21-page INDICTMENT posted
at http://media2.krqe.com/_local/pdf/vigil-giron_indictment_20090819.pdf

Note that most of the counts, if proven, are felonies and involve a minimum of one to six years jail time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vigil-Giron accused of embezzlement, money laundering scheme
By Trip Jennings and Heath Haussamen
8/19/09 10:09 PM
The New Mexico Independent
http://newmexicoindependent.com/34461/vigil-giron-indictment-alleges-embezzlement-and-money-laundering-scheme
According to an indictment handed down Wednesday, former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron fabricated a letter -- postdating it Aug 26, 2004 -- to help cover up a vast money laundering and embezzlement scheme.

The scheme involved Vigil-Giron, a nationally respected Hispanic media consultant and a husband-and-wife team who now lobby for the city of Albuquerque, according to the indictment.

The emphasis on the Aug. 26, 2004, letter comes nearly 15 months after a 2008 federal audit raised flags about that the same correspondence in strong terms.

The letter in question was between Vigil-Giron and a media consultant she had hired -- Armando Gutierrez -- to help produce TV and radio ads for her office, according to a Federal Election Assisstance Commision report that stated that Gutierrez was unable to account for more than $2 million of the nearly $6.3 million in federal funds he had been paid by Vigil-Giron's office.

Among other things the Aug. 26, 2004, letter changed the method of payment for Gutierrez, who with Vigil-Giron and two others, was indicted Wednesday. The letter stipulated that Gutierrez would go from being paid at three hourly rates to a single, 17-percent administrative fee of the value of work his firm performed, according to the letter.

Ultimately Gutierrez earned a $1-million administrative fee, slightly more than 20 percent of the $4.8 million his firm, A. Gutierrez & Associates, Inc., was paid to produce tens of thousands of TV and radio advertisements that ran in English, Spanish and Navajo and starred Vigil-Giron in the months leading up to the 2004 general and 2006 primary and general elections.

The federal audit found another odd thing about the Aug. 26, 2004, letter: The state Attorney General's office had not reviewed it, although it was legally bound to review state agency contracts.

"The former Secretary of State told us that she relied on the statements made by the Contractor that it would be better to agree to the 17 percent fee arrangement because it would result in a lower overall cost to the state," the audit says.

The suspicious provenance of the letter on Wednesday led to a charge of tampering with evidence, one of 50 criminal counts the former secretary of state is now facing.

Vigil-Giron did not return a phone call from the Independent. And her attorney declined to comment on the indictments late Wednesday afternoon, saying he had not read the indictment yet.

In addition to Vigil-Giron and Gutierrez, Elizabeth and Joe Kupfer, who are husband and wife, also were indicted Wednesday by a state grand jury.

Elizabeth Kupfer worked for Attorney General Patricia Madrid at the time of the alleged scheme as the agency's administrative services director.

Her husband, Joseph, worked as the lobbyist for the Secretary of State's Office.

Both are listed now as lobbyists for the city of Albuquerque, according to the Secretary of State's website.

Gutierrez, meanwhile, is a well-connected consultant who has worked on three Democratic presidential campaigns over the past two decades, as well as for some heavy political hitters, ranging from Gov. Bill Richardson to the Democratic National Committee, according to his firm's Web site last year. The site has since been taken offline.

An attorney for Gutierrez on Wednesday afternoon called the indictment returned against his client "unfounded and unjust."

"We are disappointed that an indictment has been returned against Armando Gutierrez," said attorney Miles Hanisee.

Elizabeth Kupfer, meanwhile, did not return a phone call from the Independent.

Attorney General Gary King, meanwhile, said his office can back up the charges.

"My government accountability team has been working on this for about two years," King said. "We feel that it has been well researched. We feel like we can support the evidence in court."

The charges against Vigil-Giron, Gutierrez and both Kupfers ranged from several counts of embezzlement and money laundering to fraud over $20,000 and attempts to evade or defeat tax, according to the indictment.

Also among the charges was soliciting or receiving an illegal kickback and offering or paying an illegal kickback.

The indictment doesn't go into detail about the alleged kickback, neither listing a dollar amount nor who paid it or received it.

The indictments also don't lay out in detail how Vigil-Giron profited financially from the scheme, although it charged her with embezzling in excess of $20,000 on more than one occasion.

The only bank transactions listed in the indictments involve Gutierrez and the Kupfers.

The indictment lays out a scheme whereby several large deposits were made into a Wells Fargo bank account controlled by Gutierrez over several years -- $2 million in 2004; $2 million in 2005; and $1.7 million and $186,500 in 2006. On three separate occasions -- on Oct. 19, 2004, Aug. 26, 2005 and between June 2 and June 5, 2006 -- Gutierrez transferred a total of $3.5 million into a second Wells Fargo account, according to the indictment.

The indictment doesn't explain the significance of the transfers, or go into detail of where the transferred money went.

As for the Kupfers, more than $746,000 drawn on Gutierrez's first Wells Fargo account was deposited into two accounts controlled by the couple at 1st Community Bank, the indictment says.

The deposits, made over a two-year period, ranged in size from $30,000 to $140,000, according to the indictment.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Defense attorneys for Vigil-Giron, Gutierrez have little to say
By Trip Jennings
8/19/09 5:41 PM
The New Mexico Independent
http://newmexicoindependent.com/34452/defense-attorneys-have-little-to-say-saying-they-havent-seen-indictments
Attorneys for Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Armando Gutierrez said Wednesday afternoon had very little to say about the indictments returned on their clients, saying that hadn't yet received the indictments.

"We are disappointed that an indictment has been returned against Armando Gutierrez," said Miles Hanisee, who is representing Gutierrez. "We feel it is unfounded and unjust."

The attorney for Vigil-Giron, Robert Gorence, said he wouldn't comment because he hadn't reviewed the documents.

"I have heard about it," Gorence said of the indictments. "I might have something to say tomorrow."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Vigil-Giron targeted in probe of voter education funds
By Heath Haussamen
8/19/09 12:21 PM
The New Mexico Independent
http://newmexicoindependent.com/34404/vigil-giron-targeted-in-probe-of-voter-education-funds

Former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron confirmed today that she is a target of an investigation into the spending of millions of dollars in federal funds on voter education by her office -- an investigation that is now in the hands of a state grand jury.

Vigil-Giron said in a brief interview that she has received a "target letter" from the grand jury -- a letter indicating that she's one of the people the attorney general's office is targeting for potential indictments in the case.

Vigil-Giron, a Democrat, provided a lengthy statement about receiving the target letter in which she defended her actions as secretary of state and claimed that Attorney General Gary King, also a Democrat, and others are out to destroy her reputation.

"I pray every day that my Lord and my God will forgive those individuals who so willingly, callously and wrongfully accuse me of unsubstantiated wrongdoing for the purpose of furthering their own personal and political ambitions," Vigil-Giron said in her statement. "This witch-hunt must cease and desist. It has been going on since I left office almost three years ago and no wrong doing on my part has been uncovered."
King, who Vigil-Giron said is "concentrating this attack on me" keeps claiming that he is not running for Governor and only running for re-election as Attorney General. Why is he intent on destroying the good service that I performed for the State of New Mexico?"

King's office does not comment on pending investigations or grand jury proceedings, which are secret. AG spokesman Phil Sisneros reiterated that on Tuesday.

Audit says more than $2 million can't be accounted for
The AG's investigation comes after a federal audit found severe mismanagement of federal Help America Vote Act funds by Vigil-Giron's administration during the 2006 election cycle. Vigil-Giron, who left office at the end of 2006 because of term limits, says the audit is flawed and has repeatedly insisted that no wrongdoing occurred on her watch.

Vigil-Giron used federal funds to pay the Albuquerque firm Gutierrez & Associates $6.3 million for advertising and voter education work leading up to the 2006 election. The federal audit found that the company can't account for how more than $2 million of that money was spent. Last year, an annual, state audit included many of the findings in the federal audit and some new findings.

Vigil-Giron insisted in today's statement that she "can account for every last nickel that was spent" and said all contracts over $200,000 were reviewed by officials in the attorney general's office. She said she "relied on the Attorney General to always counsel me in the right direction legally."

Patricia Madrid, not King, was AG at the time in question, but Vigil-Giron named at least one official who still work in the AG's office as an employee who helped her.

The Albuquerque Journal reported today that the grand jury is also investigating Armando Gutierrez, the head of the firm Vigil-Giron hired.

 

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Pokey Anderson has broadcast or published numerous reports on voting machine issues over the past four years. She co-produces a weekly news and analysis radio program, The Monitor on KPFT-Pacifica in Houston. A previous article was "Even a Remote (more...)
 

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