The gatekeeper to NM’s political machine


Matthew Chandler

“Corruption in New Mexico has reached the level of epidemic, and is in all forms of government.” Don’t take my word for it; take it from recently retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Tom McClenaghan, who concluded that our state might just be the most corrupt in the nation.

Of course, corruption is not limited to one political party in New Mexico. Corruption is simply a seed planted in the minds of too many career politicians that sprouts in the soil of greed, pride and the fear of being replaced. Those involved exchange their honor for bribes, their integrity for money, and their convictions for dealings in bad-faith.

The silver lining is that we do have many honest people working hard in government on both sides of the aisle. However, they seem to be the exception in New Mexico and their good works are often buried by corruption headlines.

The bottom line: Corruption has triumphed before our very eyes.

The gatekeeper’s record

After reviewing Attorney General Gary King’s record over the last four years a quote comes to mind: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Attorney General Gary King has acted as the gatekeeper to a political machine that will go down in the books as perhaps the most scandalous in our history. Accordingly, one would think every corruption headline would have been followed by an accountability headline. Not the case – not even close.

Let’s examine the record and see if it warrants re-election for the gatekeeper.

First case up involves former state treasurer Michael Montoya, whose indictment was obtained by Attorney General Patricia Madrid before she left office. The indictment charged Montoya with orchestrating a campaign of bribes and kickbacks that rocked the state treasurer’s office. In 2007, King resolved this case by entering into an agreement with Montoya to plead guilty to one felony count of racketeering in exchange for dismissing 15 others. Following this deal, King stated he was “pleased” with the results and that his office had “sent a message that they will pursue whatever actions are necessary to protect the public trust.”

Fast forward to the Roberta Vigil case. This is the only corruption case King has initiated and resolved within his four-year term as AG. Vigil was convicted of two felonies after blowing thousands of school money on a party. This convicted criminal was facing more than four years in prison, but when it was all said and done she walked out of the courtroom with probation and no time behind bars.

Despite the meek sentence, King’s response was that he again was “pleased” and “sending a message that misuse of public monies will be prosecuted by this office and this type of behavior will not be tolerated by the people of New Mexico.”


It doesn’t appear the message King is sending is a deterrent to those involved in public corruption, perhaps because the consequences don’t outweigh the benefits.

In April 2009, the AG’s office obtained indictments against Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. and his father for misusing $1,000 in campaign contributions. In February of this year, a district judge dismissed half of the charges, ruling that Attorney General Gary King had overstepped his authority with the indictments. King appealed the decision, and, 16 months later the case is still pending without resolution and Block, Jr. continues to draw a hefty state paycheck.

Then we have the indictments against Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos in the Region III housing authority scandal. King received pressure to move on this drawn-out investigation, and finally indicted the case in June 2009. Since then, King has been uncharacteristically mum on this case. Here we are, over a year later, and there still is no trial date and, therefore, no resolution. One has to wonder whether this case will go away quietly after the election.

Finally, we learned in August 2009 that former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron was indicted for a scandal involving the mismanagement of millions of federal dollars allocated to the “Help America Vote Act.” Following the indictments, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General said, “we will be doing our talking in the court.” Many, including Vigil-Giron, are still waiting for that promise. Trial was scheduled to begin last week, but has since been postponed until long after the election.

Once again, no resolution or justice for New Mexico. One is left to wonder whether this case, too, will fade into the shadows if King is re-elected.

So what does that leave under King’s belt after New Mexico gave him four-years in the Attorney General’s Office during an era of corruption at epidemic levels? A grand total of one plea of guilty in exchange for 15 dismissals, a conviction that led to probation, a case on appeal after a judge dismissed half the charges due to mistakes made by the Attorney General, and a couple of postponed cases to be decided long after New Mexico’s 2010 election. Some message.

All bark, no bite

King keeps saying he is going to “send a message that misuse of public monies will be prosecuted by (the) office and this type of behavior will not be tolerated by the people of New Mexico.”

King has had a silver platter opportunity to go for the gusto and prosecute those responsible for bad-faith investments of over $200 million dollars in New Mexico’s retirement funds. However, New Mexico employees and teachers are left to rely on New York’s Attorney General to stay updated on New Mexico’s most historical and corrupt pay-to-play scandal yet.

Relying on New York to conduct the business of our state attorney general’s office is no way to send a message.

Literally, New Mexico cannot afford four more years of an attorney general, or a gatekeeper, who is going to look the other way while the entrenched establishment picks the pockets of New Mexico’s taxpayers. Over the last four years – with AG King in the driver’s seat – we have all been witnesses to one corruption headline after the other, many of which have implicated the highest office in this state. Yet despite his message, AG King has not been a threat to those who would give in to the allure of corruption.

It would appear that he is more interested in protecting his friends than he is New Mexico.

A call for change

As a career prosecutor, I don’t take lightly my tasks ahead as this state’s next attorney general. I know what it takes to get an indictment because I’ve been successfully prosecuting criminals my entire career.

And that is the problem with AG King. Right now, all we basically have are a handful of indictments, all of which have hit major roadblocks with no resolution in sight. And none of the indictments are really directed at the heart of the problem or the major culprits. It’s what we call attention diversion.

My philosophy, on the other hand, is that justice in this state must be swift and the blows must be heavy to end corruption. That is the only message that will ever gain any traction.

In my career as a prosecutor and two-term district attorney, I have successfully convicted over 30 defendants involved in homicides. As a special appointed assistant united states attorney, I assisted federal prosecutors in dismantling the New Mexico Aryan Brotherhood, an organized white supremacist gang in the business of committing violent crimes and drug trafficking. I removed a Republican County Treasurer for falsifying public records and made her forfeit her salary back to the taxpayers as restitution.

One of my greatest honors was receiving the New Mexico Law Enforcement Prosecutor of the Year Award in 2006 for my ability to work with law enforcement officers throughout the state to bring justice to victims.

I am not touting my experience out of false pride; I share it only because it’s the kind of experience we need if we want to shake the stigma of being one of the most corrupt states in the nation.

For too long, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has been used to push – or at least not impede – a political agenda, and the real job of protecting the people of New Mexico has been ignored. My commitment is to put people above politics and to root out corruption. By doing this, the respectable public servants in both parties can advance our state in all the areas that matter, whether they involve the economy, schools or public safety.

I am asking you to judge me on my record of achievement – not mere activity, but the results of my work. Mine is a record earned by confronting public corruption head-on and holding wrongdoers accountable.

As a prosecutor, I am often reminded of Edmund Burke’s famous quote, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Make no mistake about it, corruption has permeated our state, having a devastating impact on our economy and eroding public confidence in our government. It’s time we do something about it.

It’s time for a change in New Mexico, and I am asking people all across the state to give change in the Attorney General’s Office a chance.

Chandler is the Republican candidate for attorney general.

13 thoughts on “The gatekeeper to NM’s political machine

  1. Excellent blog! Here’s to the next Attorney General of New Mexico. It’s about time we had someone who is honest and will go after the graft and pay for play people in our government as well as the scammers who would take our citizens hard earned money.

  2. I agree with Mr. Chandler that much of NM is corrupt. Those state officers elected by the citizens who are given an oath by these officers, including Mr. Chandler, for their trust seem to feel they do not need ot obey the law. That law being that each one of them, including mr. Chandler are REQUIRED under the state constitution at Art. XXII, Sec. 19 to give a bond to hold their respective office. And at New Mexico Statute Annotated (NMSA) 10-2-9, the officers required to give a bond are barred from discharging duties of the office UNTIL they file and record the required bond. That recording is required in the office of the Sec. of State, See NMSA 10-2-5, 6, & 7 respectively.

    To date no one in that office can, or will produce the required bonds.

    And then, in addition to the aforementioned law(s), there is the following one stipulating that DA’s must have such a bond.

    NMSA 36-1-1. [Oath and bond of district attorneys] (1909)
    “Each district attorney shall, within sixty days after his election, qualify by filing in the office of the secretary of state, an oath of office as prescribed for other officers and a good and sufficient bond to be approved by a justice of the supreme court in the sum of five thousand dollars [$5,000.00].”

    I don’t beleive Mr. Chandler has one; he may want/need to look a bit closer to home, himself, when it comes to state public officials being corrupt, and NOT obeying the law while they hold the rest of us, citizens of the state, accountable to the law(s) of New Mexico.

  3. Hemingway, your source that NM isn’t in the top 10 most corrupt states is cute. It doesn’t include New Mexico, Louisiana, or Illinois. If corruption isn’t a problem in NM, why do both governor candidates keep talking about it? And, to claim the fact that Matt Chandler received the State’s Top Prosecutor Award from Law Enforcement doesn’t mean much is ludicirous. The fact that I am in law enforcement, I can tell you that this award is given to ONE prosecutor a year in NM… and they better be good to get the support of law enforcement.
    Also, the song you just posted lost you any and all credibility you might have had.

    This is a very intersting point, Gary King can only come up with a handful of indictments in the most (or one of them) corrupt state’s in the nation? Time for a change, replace a career politician with a career prosecutor in the AG’s Office? Not a bad trade…

  4. Here is the song for the Martinez campaign – It is Corruption and Money by the Kinks.

    As the New Mexican Republicans say Corruption is everywhere – it might be in the Republican party because of their close and improper ties with the oil and gas industry and the wealthy. Read the lyrics.

    (Sung by Chorus)

    We are sick and tired
    Of being promised this and that.
    We work all day, we sweat and slave
    To keep the wealthy fat.
    They fill our heads with promises
    And bamboozle us with facts,
    Then they put on false sincerity
    Then they laugh behind our backs.

    1st Chorus
    Money and Corruption
    Are ruining the land
    Crooked politicians
    Betray the working man,
    Pocketing the profits
    And treating us like sheep,
    And we’re tired of hearing promises
    That we know they’ll never keep.

    Money and Corruption
    (Etc. repeat 1st Chorus above)

    Promises, promises, all we get are promises.
    Show us a man who’ll understand us, guide us and lead us.”

    New Mexicans should remember these words at election time.

  5. We have more than an appearance of corruption here, we have an epidemic and its gotten worse and much more costly in recent years. Remember the good old days of bringing presents to the Insurance Commissioner’s mother’s “brithday party?” Much cheaper than watching our permanent funds evaporate. The embarrasing part is how amateuristic it is. The public and the press watch it unfold daily and yet we scratch our heads. Too bad the ‘ol “plausible deniability through incompetence” excuse is so bullet proof in NM. I’m not sure the Daily Beast’s study is that representative given the lack of federal presence and enforcement in the state (and Illinois and Louisiana are suspiciously absent from the list). That said, I’m sure there are some “best practices” that our local cronies could adopt if they look harder at the more “advanced” states.

  6. Even if you argue the culture of corruption is not real,
    you cannot deny that the perception of a culture of corruption is real.

    As is the damage is does, irrespective of the actual damages of corruption.


    Describe please; the line between an acceptable amount of public corruption and
    an unacceptable amount of public corruption.

    Why would you tolerate any at all?

  7. Daily Beast? Really? That’s a unbiased source.

    For anyone to try to argue that NM isn’t corrupt is ludicrous. Although, perhaps the Beast’s analysis has something to do with the fact that King isn’t doing his job how else could he be at it for 4 years and have such a short list of accomplishments?

    Didn’t King promise in 2006 that he’d end corruption and that the feds wouldn’t have to carry our water? Wake me up when that happens. I think this race is going to be a lot tighter than initially meets the eye. I don’t care how powerful the King legacy is.

  8. The State Bar Prosecutors Section of the State Bar Association of New Mexico awards fellow prosecutors each year. There is an award for Prosecutor of the Year, Legal Impact Prosecutor Award, Rookie Prosecutor of the Year, Law Enforcement Prosecutor Award, and Community Service Prosecutor Award. That does not seem to be a prestigious award. No one has won twice over the years. It appears every prosecutor gets some kind of award. It would be like only investigative journalists in New Mexico handing out awards each year for : investigative journalist; impact investigative journalist; rookie investigative journalist, etc. I am glad Mr. Chandler got an award, but is it relevant? I think not!

    You can read about the award here:

  9. The Daily Beast?? A fine,objective and unbiased source. Sorry, but all these stats are from fed arrests and convictions and have nothing to do with the AG’s office and their activities. But if you think NM is not corrupt, I am wondering where you live.

  10. Hemingway, the statistics that the Daily Beast is using is based on “convictions” and “arrests”. The States that are being ranked high are because they are “CONVICTING” and “ARRESTING” corrupt individuals in their States which is giving the Daily Beast numbers to provide their statistics on. We don’t have that going on in New Mexico! We need a proactive Attorney General that is not only going to indict corrupt individuals, but also hold them accountable and CONVICT them. Until then we will continue to be a state over run with corruption and nobody being held accountable.

  11. The Daily Beast did a study on the most corrupt states. New Mexico is ranked 43rd. It was based on the following criteria:

    “Public corruption, 1998—2008: Convictions of elected and other public officials investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Department of Justice.

    •Racketeering and Extortion, 1998—2008: Code for organized crime convictions, also investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    •Forgery and Counterfeiting, 1999—2008: Arrest numbers for producing or distributing fake money and goods over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

    •Fraud, 1999—2008: Arrests for false statements or documents produced for personal gain over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

    •Embezzlement, 1999—2008: Arrests for surreptitious theft of money over a 10-year period, from the FBI.”

    Sorry Mr. McClenaghan and Mr. Chandler, the top ten corrupt states are:

    North Carolina
    South Carolina


  12. Excellent analysis and insights Mr. Chandler. Mr. King is far too involved and beholden to the La Politica machines in NM to be effective, objective, or aggressive at rooting out the rampant corruption that keeps NM the banana republuic of America. We need hope and change we can believe in.