Thursday, October 27, 2005


A version of this stroy was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 27, 2005

Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers are arguing about the significance of certain conversations between indicted former state Treasurer Robert Vigil and a “cooperating witnesses,” surreptitiously captured on video and audio tape.

But one thing that comes out clearly in transcripts is Vigil’s view of state politics and some fellow New Mexico politicians.

Vigil, who resigned Wednesday and faces 21 federal felony counts primarily involving extortion, visited the Downs at Albuquerque racetrack Aug. 24 with California-based investment adviser Kent Nelson.

Political fundraising was prominent in Vigil’s mind that day. At one point he told Nelson, “I spend most of my time trying to keep my job.”

Vigil spoke to Nelson about Paul Blanchard, who is a co-owner of the Albuquerque track, state Board of Finance member and huge financial contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson. The treasurer told the California consultant that Richardson “just gave (Blanchard) another racetrack down south.”

Blanchard was in the partnership to which the state Racing Commission awarded a license to build the track and casino in Hobbs now known as Zia Park.

After gossiping a bit about Blanchard’s wealth, Vigil said, “So, you know, our business is small, is small compared to …” He didn’t finish his sentence.

“I've been asking this Paul Blanchard to do a fundraiser for me,” Vigil said. But, Vigil he said he’d had no luck.

“So why don’t you get with the governor and just tell the governor to put a fundraiser on for ya?” Nelson asked.

“ I could, I could, but I don’t like to be indebted too much, you know,” Vigil said. “I help him out; I do; me and the governor sorta have the same, you know, I agree with a lot of things he does, so I help him out, but I’ve never really asked him for favors.”

Earlier in the conversation, Vigil, speaking about a businessman and his company, had bragged, “he knows that I have a lot of influence with the governor, so now they treat me good.”

After Vigil’s arrest last month, Richardson repeatedly and publicly urged Vigil to resign.

Everybody’s smoking it: Later in the afternoon, Vigil talked about another state official who recently has been in legal trouble and controversy: Public Regulation Commissioner E. Shirley Baca.

Talking about a possible candidate for Baca’s seat, Vigil said, “There’s an incumbent in that office, but she was caught; she was caught with marijuana, but then she, but then she was cleared, you know.”

Baca was arrested in December on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The charge eventually was dropped.

“You know and most people, I guess, smoke marijuana, so it’s gonna be interesting if they hold that against her or no,” Vigil said.

The treasurer offered an interesting insight — that Baca’s re-election campaign could turn out to be a de facto referendum on drug-law reform.

“I think it's important for her to be on the ballots to see where people are with that issue,” Vigil said. “Cause, you know, most people I guess smoke it, so … that’s what they say, you know.

Somebody’s gotta smoke it. When they bring it over in truck loads, I mean, I don’t smoke it, so somebody else must, right?”

The next month, when the FBI searched the homes of Vigil and former Treasurer Michael Montoya, who also was indicted on federal extortion charges, agents seized an unspecified amount of marijuana from Montoya’s home. While the FBI took financial records, computers and a book on ethics from Vigil’s property, they didn’t report finding any pot.

Gubernatorial parodies: Earlier this year Gov. Bill Richardson was parodied on Saturday Night Live by comic Horatio Sanz.

Now another national humor outlet has aimed its slapstick at our governor. But this time the humor was of the dark variety.

In last week’s issue of The Onion, an online newspaper parody, the headline was “Six Dead In Gubernatorial Suicide Pact.” Among the six was You-Know-Who.

Supposedly the governors drank poisoned liquor in the Ohio statehouse and died with their bodies arranged in a circular pattern on the floor.

“Although the reasons behind the suicide pact remain unknown, many of the country's surviving 44 state chief executives said they are not surprised by the tragedy,” The Onion said. “The governors were all known in their home states for their penchants for dark suits, their similar hairstyles, and their ‘fuck everything’ attitudes.”

The story has a fake quote from another governor saying he had seen signs of the coming tragedy: “Bill (Richardson) had developed this habit of slashing at his arms and chest with his New Mexico flag lapel pin.”

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