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 Friday.
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.
Loveless said the case involved a danger that “leads to people not having trust in their government, not relying on the decisions of their government — perhaps even taking matters into their own hands.”
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.
At trial, Griego maintained that he did nothing wrong in earning a $50,000 commission from buyers of the property.
At Friday’s sentencing, he spoke for nearly a half hour of being drawn to public service by the examples of his mother, a pediatric nurse, and his father, who ran a neighborhood grocery store in Santa Fe and served on the city council.
“I never used the power of my office to harm anyone, your honor, never,” he said. “I have brought a stain on a precious remembered family heritage.”
Friends and family members, including a grandson adopted by Griego, asked the judge for leniency.
Griego resigned from the Legislature in 2015 following a Senate ethics investigation.
He was convicted in November on charges that could have carried a maximum sentence of nearly 18 years in prison.
Assistant Attorney General Zach Jones said the severity of the crimes was only highlighted by dozens of supportive letters to the court seeking leniency for Griego.
“These supporters, the people writing the letters, are the people most harmed by the defendant’s crimes, by his assault on the democratic process,” Jones said.
Attorney Tom Clark accused the state attorney general’s office of seeking “the complete annihilation” of his client in the name of justice.
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.
Friday’s court decision would claw back some pension benefits through fines, along with reimbursements Griego received for lodging and travel.
During the recent legislative session, lawmakers abandoned a more aggressive pension forfeiture law for officials convicted of corruption.
The sentence prohibits Griego from holding public office or working for the state. He was given three weeks to prepare for prison.