Out West Roundup: Corruption case involving former state lawmaker heads to trial in New Mexico
Author: Associated Press - November 3, 2017 - Updated: November 10, 2017
New Mexico political corruption case heads to trial
SANTA FE — A former New Mexico state senator goes on trial this week on corruption charges in a high-stakes showdown with state prosecutors. The case comes to a head as scandal-weary voters consider creating an independent state ethics commission to shore up oversight of elected officials.
Phil Griego, 69, a Democrat, is accused of using his former position as a lawmaker and his acumen as a real estate broker to profit from the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe via complex interactions with a state agency, allied lawmakers and a public buildings commission. He’s charged with eight criminal counts including bribery, fraud and perjury.
Griego’s attorney, Thomas Clark, has said evidence and testimony will show Griego never voted in 2014 on the sale as a lawmaker and was not promised a $50,000 commission until after the Legislature adjourned.
Witnesses are likely to include members of a prominent Santa Fe real estate dynasty, leading state lawmakers, legislative staff, campaign finance regulators and an investigative journalist.
It’s the latest in a string of high-profile corruption cases in New Mexico involving public officials.
Republican Dianna Duran resigned as secretary of state in 2015 amid revelations she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction. That led to her conviction on felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering.
New Mexico voters will decide in November 2018 whether to create an independent state ethics commission to evaluate initial accusations of misconduct against public officials — though local and state prosecutors would still handle criminal cases.
New Mexico backtracks on dropping evolution in classrooms
SANTA FE — Public education officials in New Mexico have retreated from proposed science standards that would have deleted or omitted references to evolution, human contributions to global warming and Earth’s age.
Scores of scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb that is located in energy-dominant New Mexico — joined a broad backlash against the standards promoted by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
Responding to public outrage, education officials went back this week to a template followed by at least 18 states and designed to make science education more engaging and effective.
State Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, chairwoman of an influential education committee, expressed pride in the outpouring of public concern — from scientists in particular — noting that the Democratic-controlled Legislature has little authority to intervene in education department decisions on academic standards.
Wyoming revenue forecast shows some gains, but no return to pre-bust levels
CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s latest revenue forecast is better than it’s been in the last two years, but there’s still a long way to go before the state returns to levels preceding the latest economic downturn.
Beginning in 2015, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group started noticing a looming supply-demand imbalance in energy markets, meaning it would only be a matter of time before prices fell, said Alex Kean, the state of Wyoming Economic Analysis Division administrator.
Prices — and state revenue — only begun bouncing back in the latest quarter, he said, calling the trend “a slight reversal to a more stable or slightly improving outlook for the state.”
General fund revenues for the 2017-2018 biennium are expected to reach nearly $2.24 billion – $195 million more than projected in January. However, that estimate still represents an 11 percent decrease from the 2015-2016 budget. In the 2013-2014 biennium, revenue collections were about 19 percent higher.
It’s all part of the same story of a drop in energy prices that sent Wyoming’s economy into a rough patch, the latest in its perennial cycle of booms and busts. By relying on mineral commodities for more than 70 percent of its revenue, Wyoming is subject to the severe volatility of those markets.
CREG will release another report in January before the start of the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 budget session, where lawmakers are expected to adopt a budget for the next two years.
Mountain lion plan includes bighorn sheep protection
OMAHA — Nebraska’s new mountain lion management plan includes some protection for the state’s small population of bighorn sheep.
The plan approved last week by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission pulls policies together in one management document to guide decisions.
Among the plan provisions, the commission director may authorize the killing of any mountain lion known to target bighorn sheep and jeopardize the existence of a herd.
Mountain lions are native to Nebraska but were eliminated by the end of the 1800s. Cougars from neighboring states started returning to Nebraska late in the 1990s.
Game and Parks started reintroducing bighorns in 1981 to reclaim portions of their native range. Officials say the predators have killed 13 bighorns in Nebraska over the past decade.
Records: Tentative deal reached on deadly ‘cyanide bombs’
BILLINGS, Montana — U.S. officials have reached a tentative deal with wildlife advocates trying to stop the use of predator-killing traps, including devices called “cyanide bombs” that earlier this year injured an Idaho teenager and killed his dog, according to court documents filed last week.
One of the devices named in the lawsuit, called an M-44, is partially buried and baited to attract predators. It sprays cyanide into the mouths of animals that trigger it.
M-44s are meant to protect livestock but sometimes kill pets and injure people.
Another device at issue is a type of collar filled with pesticide and placed onto livestock so the pesticide will be ingested by attacking predators.
The Humane Society, WildEarth Guardians and two other groups filed suit over the devices in April. They say the traps kill thousands of predators every year — primarily coyotes but also foxes, raccoons, opossums and other animals.
Giant sequoia doing well 4 months after Idaho uprooting
BOISE — A 10-story-tall giant sequoia that was moved two city blocks on giant rollers at a cost of $300,000 last summer has new growth and appears happy in its new location, a tree expert said.
Tree mover David Cox of Environmental Design examined the 800,000-pound sequoia in Boise, Idaho, and pronounced the tree fit.
Naturalist John Muir, who played a key role in establishing California’s Sequoia National Park, sent the tree as a seedling to Boise more than a century ago.
It was planted in the yard of a doctor’s home across the street from a hospital that’s now undergoing a major expansion with new buildings, meaning the tree had to be moved or cut down.
The tree suffered at its old location because it was shaded by a tall building. Cox also said the building created a kind of wind tunnel that caused part of the tree to dry out and turn brown. But those needles have fallen off at the new location and have been replaced with green, healthy needles.
“She looks pretty good,” Cox said after his inspection. “But it’s still too early to tell. You still need about two or three growing seasons to really say that she’s recovered. We’re not in any danger zone. We feel like the tree is still happy.”
Judge serves eviction notice on pregnant mom’s unborn baby
PROVO, Utah — A Utah mom in her final days of pregnancy gave her baby an eviction notice and made it official with a judge’s signature. Incredibly, the baby obeyed.
Kaylee Bays was pregnant with her third child, a girl, and thought she was going into labor last week, but it stopped.
She went back to work to her job as a judicial assistant at the Fourth District Court in Provo, and jokingly asked Judge Lynn Davis to serve an eviction notice on her baby.
He did. And It worked. Less than 12 hours later, baby Gretsel was born.
Bays said Davis told her it was his first baby eviction notice in his 31 years as a judge.
Bays said the eviction notice gave her baby three days to “vacate the premises.”
The notice was addressed to Gretsel at Mommy Belly Lane, in Womb, Utah.
“She came 12 hours later. So far, she’s a good listener,” she joked. “She didn’t want to be in contempt of court.”