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Vigil-Giron accused of embezzlement, 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.