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Out West Roundup: Former New Mexico state senator gets 18 months prison term

Author: Associated Press - February 23, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018

In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, former New Mexico state Sen. Phil Griego testifies at his own trial on corruption charges in Santa Fe. Democrat Griego was later sentenced to 18 months behind bars for fraud, bribery and other convictions. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)In this Nov. 14, 2017, file photo, former New Mexico state Sen. Phil Griego testifies at his own trial on corruption charges in Santa Fe. Democrat Griego was later sentenced to 18 months behind bars for fraud, bribery and other convictions. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

New Mexico

Former New Mexico state senator gets 18 months prison term

SANTA FE — Former New Mexico state Sen. Phil Griego will spend 18 months behind bars for fraud, bribery and other convictions stemming from allegations that he misused his position to profit from a real estate deal, a state district court judge ruled last week.

Judge Brett Loveless sentenced Griego to a 12-year-prison term, but waived all but 18 months.

The former prominent Democrat also was ordered to pay roughly $47,000 in fines and serve five years of supervised probation upon his release from prison, with 1,000 hours of mandated community service.

Citing the need to restore the public’s trust in New Mexico’s elected officials, prosecutors had requested that Griego spend at least 10 years in prison and pay hefty fines for his crimes.

The defense said a lengthy prison sentence would amount to a death sentence for the 69-year-old Griego, who was described as having significant health issues.

Loveless emphasized that Griego had violated the public’s confidence in an elected official and said the sentence was designed to show that the ex-senator’s actions were not acceptable.

“You had an obligation to make sure that you complied with the law and didn’t destroy that public trust,” the judge told Griego.

Prosecutors accused Griego of using his elected position and acumen as a real estate broker to guide the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe through various approvals without properly disclosing his financial interest.

Griego’s case marks the latest in a string of high-profile corruption scandals involving public officials in New Mexico.

In a separate case, Griego faces multiple counts of perjury and embezzlement related to campaign finance reports that prosecutors say were falsified. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Griego served in the nation’s only unsalaried legislature but qualifies for a state-subsidized pension.

The court decision would claw back some pension benefits through fines, along with reimbursements Griego received for lodging and travel.


Wyoming Legislature advances ‘stand your ground’ bill

CHEYENNE – Supporters shook hands and pumped their fists outside of the House of Representatives chamber as a “stand your ground” bill passed last week in Cheyenne.

One of those happy Wyoming residents was Laramie County’s M. Lee Hasenauer. In a bright orange shirt declaring “Stand Your Ground” in a bold font, he sat near the front of the public viewing area while the House voted overwhelmingly to support the measure.

“It was important because you need to have the opportunity to stand your ground if the bad guys are coming at you, and you won’t go to court because of it,” he said.

More than 40 co-sponsors from both political parties signed onto House Bill 168. The legislation would take the castle doctrine, which doesn’t require a duty to retreat in self-defense within the home, and expand it. Essentially, it provides immunity from criminal prosecution from liability in self-defense-style shootings in public settings.

It is the second victory for gun-rights proponents as the Legislature got down to business. House members voted to introduce House Bill 141, which would repeal restrictions on concealed carry in places of worship. Places of worship now only allow concealed carry with permission of a facility’s administrators, but HB 141 would make it so the establishment would need to explicitly restrict concealed carry.


Pennsylvania man the 7th teen to enter Kansas governor race

HUTCHINSON, Kansas — The field of teenage candidates running for Kansas governor has grown to seven, and the latest contender isn’t even from the state.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 18-year-old Conner Shelton, a University of Delaware student from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was inspired to enter the race when a man launched a short-lived campaign for his dog, Angus. Elections officials put the brakes on the dog’s candidacy, but Kansas doesn’t have an age or residency requirement, which lawmakers are seeking to change.

Six other teens have entered the race, but Shelton is the first who isn’t from Kansas. The chemical engineering major described his candidacy as “an experiment of sorts.”

In addition to the teens running for governor, a teen is running for Kansas secretary of state.

North Dakota

Utility offered Burgum more than free Super Bowl tickets

BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s trip to the Super Bowl as a guest of a Minneapolis utility included free invitations to a rock concert, private parties, meals and other events, The Associated Press found through an open records request.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said last week the GOP governor has reimbursed Xcel Energy for all costs related the weekend trip, with the sum now totaling almost $40,000.

Burgum and first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum watched the Super Bowl in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 from a suite provided at no cost by Xcel Energy, which serves more than 90,000 customers in North Dakota.

The governor has been heavily criticized, including from within his Republican Party, for accepting the utility’s gift, which he said gave him “quality time to engage in constructive conversations with top Xcel executives.”

Burgum later said in a statement that he repaid $37,000 to the utility to “eliminate even the perception of any conflict.”

A subsequent AP open records request found that the utility invited the first-term governor and his wife to other events during the Super Bowl weekend.

Nowatzki said Burgum and his wife attended a Minnesota Wild hockey game, a private brunch and a tailgating party with Xcel officials. Burgum also attended a charity event but his wife didn’t, and neither attended the rock concert, Nowatzki said.

During his campaign for governor, Burgum, a wealthy former software executive, often talked about “reinventing government,” shaking up the “good old boy” party establishment and reining in “runaway spending” as the state’s oil boom was fading.


Court: Idaho nuclear waste documents won’t be made public

BOISE  — U.S. officials don’t have to provide details about proposed shipments of extremely radioactive spent commercial nuclear fuel to the country’s top government nuclear research laboratory in Idaho, a federal court has ruled.

The ruling was a major setback to a lawsuit filed by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had a long history of legal battles with the Energy Department over nuclear waste entering the state and a firm belief that residents had a right to know the agency’s plans.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the agency acted properly in withholding information sought by Andrus in a Freedom of Information Act request he filed in January 2015.

That decision means the documents will not be released to the public anytime soon, but they ultimately could be as another part of Andrus’ argument has yet to play out and the case remains open.

Andrus, a Democrat who died in August at age 85, filed the lawsuit in September 2015 after receiving heavily blacked-out documents from the federal agency about the spent commercial nuclear fuel shipments. His daughter, Tracy Andrus, has been substituted with the court’s approval as the plaintiff in the case.

The lawsuit seeks information about several hundred pounds of proposed research shipments of spent commercial nuclear fuel the federal agency wants to send to the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s top federal nuclear research lab. The shipments required a waiver to a nuclear waste agreement the Energy Department and Idaho signed in 1995 limiting nuclear waste shipments to Idaho. The agreement followed federal court victories by then Gov. Andrus at a time when he feared the state was becoming a repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.

Andrus, before his death from complications from cancer, contended that signing such a waiver would open the state up to receiving tons of nuclear waste from around the nation, and is why he sought information about the Energy Department’s plans.

The former governor in a 2016 interview with The Associated Press said he filed the lawsuit because “we have to know what’s going on.”

The Energy Department’s “stonewalling and reluctance lends credence to my suspicion,” he said. “That’s all I have right now — a strong suspicion backed up by a history of an agency that has run roughshod over the public for way too many years.”

Associated Press

Associated Press