Thursday, July 03, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: THE MARK OF ZORRO

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 3, 2008


Here’s a name that many New Mexico politicians, from the governor to the county sheriff, would like to forget: Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein
Epstein, who owns a 26,700-square-foot hilltop mansion in southern Santa Fe County, has begun serving an 18-month jail term after pleading guilty this week to soliciting sex from girls as young as 14. Police said Epstein had sex with five teenagers he hired to give him massages at his Florida home.

According to a report this week in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Epstein, who also has a 13,000-square-foot mansion in Palm Beach, will spend 18 months in the Palm Beach County Jail followed by a year of house arrest.

Epstein’s arrest in June 2006 caused a huge stir in local politics because of the massive campaign contributions he’d made in the state. Among those were $50,000 for Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2002 election campaign plus another $50,000 in 2006 under the name of one of his companies, The Zorro Trust, to Richardson’s re-election; $15,000 to Gary King’s 2006 attorney general campaign; $10,000 to 2006 state land commissioner candidate Jim Baca; and $2,000 to Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano’s 2006 re-election.

The candidates returned the contributions or donated the money to charity after Epstein’s arrest.

New Mexico politicos weren’t the only ones to be embarrassed by their association with Epstein. The Guardian, a British publication, reported Epstein has “holidayed with Prince Andrew.” The Guardian also dug up some old quotes from President Clinton praising Epstein’s “insights and generosity” a few years before the arrest. Epstein loaned Clinton a jet to travel to Africa on an AIDS-awareness mission in 2002.

It seems I usually write at least a couple of stories every election cycle about politicians giving money to charity after some contributor turns toxic due to some scandal. I’m sure the fine people who run charities aren’t nearly as jaundiced as I am. But you have to wonder whether they figure in tainted campaign cash when they’re doing their budgets every year.
Jerome Jr.
Memories of another Jeffrey: The recent revelations about Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner candidate Jerome Block Jr. bring back not-so-distant memories of another candidate whose personal problems came to light only after he’d won the Democratic primary.

Block won the six-candidate primary for the $90,000 position with less than 23 percent of the vote.

In an interview before the primary, Block admitted to The New Mexican that he’d been arrested “on suspicion” of drunken driving 10 years ago when he was 21 years old — a case that eventually was dismissed due to prosecutors’ not trying him within six months.

However, Block didn’t mention that shortly after that arrest he was cited with disorderly conduct for allegedly urinating in public. In recent interviews, he’s said he doesn’t remember that citation.

OK, I’ll admit I’ve made the “mark of Zorro” in a few alleys during Fiesta back in by reckless youth. And I certainly don’t remember every time. But I’m pretty sure if I ever got a ticket for it, I’d dang well remember that.

These incidents, plus others outlined in a recent Santa Fe Reporter article — a 1999 arrest for riding with a drunken driver to which he pleaded guilty and failing to appear at child-support hearings — have made some Democrats wonder about keeping Block on the ticket.

Which brings us back to 2006.

That summer, Richardson and other state Democratic Party leaders pressured Jeffrey Armijo, the party’s candidate for state auditor, to remove himself from the ballot. This was after newspapers published police reports filed by women who claimed Armijo made aggressive and unwanted sexual advances toward them.
Armijo
Armijo in 2007 was indicted on a felony count of false imprisonment and three misdemeanor counts of battery. But by the end of the year, the district attorney in Albuquerque decided not to prosecute, saying the state had insufficient evidence.

But unlike the Armijo case, Dem honchos aren’t rushing this year to boot Block, who is the son of a former PRC member and former state corporation commissioner.

State Party chairman Brian Colón said Wednesday that he hasn’t spoken to Block about the reports and, unlike the Armijo situation two years ago, he hasn’t heard of any movement to dump Block.

A spokeswoman for Richardson said she didn’t think Richardson would be getting involved with the Block situation.

Block’s only general election opponent in his heavily Democratic PRC district is Green Party candidate Rick Lass.

And Lass apparently won’t be making an issue of Block’s past legal skirmishes. He told The New Mexican this week that he thinks it’s “odd” Block doesn’t remember his disorderly conduct violation. “I actually consider this a bit of a distraction from the main campaign that I plan on running, talking about how important the PRC is and how we need an advocate for the people,” Lass said.

Lass, in a 2004 interview when he was running for a state Senate seat, admitted he’d been arrested in 1999 on a misdemeanor charge of simple battery in a fight with his girlfriend. He said the charge was dropped after he successfully completed the Municipal Court domestic-violence program, which he said involved anger-management classes.

But at least he remembered it.

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