A district judge ruled Wednesday that Attorney General Gary King’s office can’t prosecute a corruption case against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and others because of perceptions of a conflict.
King’s options now are to appeal the ruling or hand the case over to a special prosecutor – perhaps one of the state’s district attorneys.
Lawyers for the defendants had alleged a conflict because the AG’s office provided counsel to the secretary of state on contracts related to the indictment, and also because of potential personal conflicts between one of the defendants and King, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
While Judge Pat Murdoch said he found no wrongdoing by King and King’s office, his ruling aimed to protect the process by avoiding negative appearances.
“The issues we’ve just discussed cast shadows,” the Journal quoted him as saying, “and when that happens, the shadows have to be removed.”
Vigil-Giron, lobbyists Joseph Kupfer and Elizabeth Kupfer, and media consultant Armando Gutierrez, who headed the company Vigil-Giron hired to help the state implement a federal voter education program, each face 50 counts including money laundering, fraud, soliciting or receiving kickbacks and tax evasion. They allegedly took the money between 2004 and 2006 using the secretary of state’s contract with Gutierrez by falsifying invoices.
The case is one of two brought by King where defendants have challenged his office’s ability to prosecute because the AG also provides civil legal advice to state agencies. In the other case, against four defendants involved in the housing authority scandal, the appeals court ruled King’s office can prosecute the case.
The defendants have appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The challenges to King’s authority to prosecute have delayed trial in both cases.