Corruption pollutes local, national politics

Right before I sat down to write this column, I got a phone message from a guy who said he was doing a research project on political corruption in New Mexico and wanted to talk to me. Just 20 minutes later, I received an email from state Attorney General Hector Balderas’ spokesman announcing his office had indicted a sitting Rio Arriba County commissioner on three felony counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one felony count relating to campaign finances.

Commissioner Barney Trujillo, D-Chimayó, a county commissioner since 2010, is an ambitious politician. He has twice run for the state House seat that the retiring Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, has held since the early 1970s. Most recently, he lost a three-way primary in June.

Trujillo’s legal problems have been brewing for more than two years. During his 2016 primary campaign, Trujillo accused Salazar of trying to sandbag his candidacy by asking the attorney general to look into Rio Arriba County projects Trujillo had led. Salazar denied he’d had anything to do with it.

Trujillo told me in the spring of 2016 that the AG was seeking documents from Rio Arriba County concerning Trujillo’s expenses from 2013-16. The investigators also wanted documents related to county policies, county contracts and records of discretionary funds, Trujillo said.

In January 2017, investigators from Balderas’ office raided Trujillo’s home. Española’s Rio Grande Sun reported at the time that an affidavit for a search warrant served at the Española Public Schools office the week before named Trujillo, who until last year had a $50,000 no-bid contract with the district for marketing services. Investigators seized computers and emails exchanged between Trujillo and others, the…

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