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Senator’s Resignation Stems From Real Estate Deal

Padre Denny via Flickr

Long-time Democratic State Senator Phil Griego resigned while facing an ethics investigation. At issue is a real estate deal that Griego brokered for friends of his who own a hotel in downtown Santa Fe.

KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel talked with Peter St. Cyr, the independent journalist who brought to light this real estate deal—and the ethics questions about Senator Griego’s involvement—in a story published by the Santa Fe Reporter last summer.

St. Cyr explains the hotel owners, members of the Seret family, wanted to provide a fitness center and conference room for their guests. But in order to buy the building they wanted, state lawmakers would have to pass a joint resolution to approve the sale of the state-owned building. The Serets turned to their friend, Senator Phil Griego, for help.

St. Cyr: So he goes out and recruits another Santa Fe representative to sponsor the joint resolution. Then the state was able to put the building up for sale officially and within months there was a purchasing agreement signed. And what we found out is that Phil Griego not only was helping to push the legislation through, but he was going to be the Seret’s real estate broker and earn a big $50,000 commission.

KUNM: In what way, it seems a little bit obvious, but, explain exactly how Griego may have broken the law and violated ethics rules.

St. Cyr: Once someone filed an ethics complaint against Griego, special counsel that was contracted determined that he broke the state constitution, the oath of office and the senate rules. Because there is this idea in New Mexico that we want our citizen legislators to serve the public interest and not set themselves up for a future pay day and Phil Griego knew all along that he’d be earning a big, fat commission on this.

KUNM: The legislature’s interim legislative ethics committee had planned to meet to discuss Griego’s actions and what kind of censure or expulsion they were going to decide upon for him. But before they met he resigned. Tell us a little bit more about what he has said about his decision to resign.

St. Cyr: He thought that there was a lot of politics involved and that it was being used as a weapon against him and Democrats in their consideration of certain legislation during the session and to avoid that distraction, he is moving on. But really, he had no choice because they had the votes to expel him.

KUNM: What about Democratic leaders in the Roundhouse? Does this, the fact that he has resigned, take pressure off them to demonstrate that they’re being hard on a member of their own party?

St. Cyr: So the leadership is often influenced, I think, by the membership. Originally, he was only going to be reprimanded, maybe censured, maybe stripped of a few interim committee chairmanships. It was progressive Democrats that really put their foot down and said that they had to do more.

KUNM: Will Phil Griego be facing any other kind of impacts from his involvement in this real estate deal other than basically being forced to resign from his senate seat? Could he be charged with a crime?

St. Cyr: A lot of people have been looking at this deal for months and questioning whether or not it violates the Governmental Conduct Act. We spent a week trying to reach out to the FBI, the U.S Prosecutor, the Attorney General and even the local district attorney in the 1st Judicial District. None of them had any comment. Angela Spence Pacheco, the DA in Santa Fe says no one’s referred it to her office.

Elaine Baumgartel was KUNM's News Director from 2013 to 2019. She was local Morning Edition host from 2007 through 2012 and she regularly hosted the station's live news and public affairs show for some years. Elaine originally came on board at KUNM as a volunteer and student employee in 2003.