Former NM secretary of state on stolen voter education funds: ‘I did nothing wrong’
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By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE — Three associates of former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil have been convicted on charges related to $2.5 million in stolen voter education funds that were assigned to the state by the federal government.
But Vigil remains a free woman, unindicted in the federal case. State charges against Vigil were by a district judge who ruled her case originally prosecuted by the had dragged on too long and violated Vigil’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.For some, Vigil appears to be the big fish that got away, but she told New Mexico Watchdog in an interview Tuesday she’s done nothing wrong and the convictions of her former associates is a “travesty of justice.”
“I don’t see it as other than a personal attack, a personal vendetta against me,” Vigil said from her home in Albuquerque, adding, “They had no evidence against me. So this ‘big fish’ over here did nothing wrong.”
On Monday, a former media consultant to Vigil, in prison and ordered to pay restitution after he was found guilty of siphoning $2.5 million in federal funds that were supposed to be used to develop a voter education campaign.
Another Vigil associate, on similar charges and is awaiting sentencing. Kupfer’s wife, in prison on tax evasion charges related to the fraud investigation.
“To make the Kupfers and Armando Gutierrez as the fall guys because they couldn’t get me …” said Vigil, her voice trailing off. “They can’t even point to one bit of evidence that I was involved in anything. My heart goes out to Armando and the Kupfers and I pray for them, as I do even for my enemies out there.”
Vigil, formerly known as Vigil-Giron before she remarried after leaving office, was one of the most prominent Democrats in the state. While secretary of state, she saw New Mexico receive a portion of some $3 billion that went to states in 2002 as part of the a program designed to upgrade states’ voting procedures.
Prosecutors say $2.5 million was bilked. While Vigil was not indicted, said in federal court that the former secretary of state was involved in the scheme.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Neda said Vigil hired Gutierrez and his media company to produce commercials, and that Gutierrez used the HAVA money to pay cash to buy a home in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“It was sheer greed,” the prosecution said in its sentencing motion before .
Vigil told New Mexico Watchdog that Gutierrez and the Kupfers will appeal their respective convictions.
“The justice system was not fair to those individuals,” Vigil said. “There has never been any evidence of wrongdoing but to give the impression there was by delaying and taking it to this extent is unreasonable. They’re going to appeal their convictions and they will win.”
Prosecutors told a different story after Monday’s sentencing hearing.
“A lengthy prison sentence is what happens when individuals steal federal funds then obstruct and conceal their crimes,” IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Dawn Mertz said in a statement. “In this case, Mr. Gutierrez misappropriated voter education funds and used the money for his own benefit. IRS Criminal Investigation, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to aggressively investigate the theft of taxpayer dollars.”
The controversy surrounding the HAVA funds came up in 2004 when Republicans complained about $2 million Vigil spent on radio and television ads about voter registration were merely attempts to enhance her name recognition across the state. Gutierrez’s firm produced the ads.
Questions about misspending made headlines in 2007. Vigil, who made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, maintains her innocence.
“I did everything that was mandated, the duties that I was entrusted with as the secretary of state,” she said. “I performed them to the letter of the law.”
In the summer of 2011, Vigil sat down for an interview with New Mexico Watchdog and blamed her legal troubles on what she claimed was a wide conspiracy involving New Mexico Republicans as well as prominent Democrats, including and . Vigil called the allegations “a political witch hunt.”
The case against Vigil bounced back and forth.
The attorney general’s office handled the case when but Vigil’s attorney successfully argued that the AG’s office should be recused because it acts as in-house counsel to the secretary of state’s office.
The case was assigned and reassigned to , while the prosecution case was assigned to the district attorney’s office in Albuquerque, which had to find a special prosecutor.
Finally, last November — three years since the indictments — Vigil’s attorney argued before a state judge that her defense had been impaired by the delays and , the presiding criminal judge in the 2nd Judicial District, .
“There were a number of things in that case that caused some delay,” King told New Mexico Watchdog Tuesday. “But I actually think it’s interesting that while the state court ruled there was unreasonable delay, that the convictions in the federal cases came after the judge ruled, so obviously the federal courts did not rule that the amount of delay was an issue … A good portion of the delay was caused by defense motions and judges who neglected to set hearings in a timely manner.”
King’s office has appealed the dismissal and a special prosecutor is still assigned to pick up Vigil’s prosecution should the appeal succeed.
“She hasn’t walked free yet because the dismissal of the state charges are on appeal,” King said. “I think the special prosecutor ) has reasonable grounds to argue to the court of appeals that the definitive case on speedy trials doesn’t really apply in this case.”
Vigil said she is not currently working because, she says, it would not be fair to a prospective employer “to suffer along with me” as the legal process continues.
“My Christian faith, my Catholic faith, has kept me very strong,” she said. “I feel pity, not anger anymore, for Gary King and all those individuals that have conspired against me.”
“It’s certainly nothing personal,” King said. “I’ve said in court, even under oath, that I considered her, previously, to be a friend. I was surprised as anyone when I found out what they were doing with this Help America Vote Act money.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Albuquerque Journal, Armando Gutierrez, Daisy Kupfer, Elizabeth Kupfer, Gary King, Hector Balderas, Help America Vote Act, Joseph Kupfer, Judge Reed Sheppard, Judge William P Johnson, New Mexico Attorney General's office, New Mexico Secretary of State, New Mexico State Auditor, New Mexico Watchdog, Rebecca Vigil, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Tara Neda