Money-laundering charges dismissed in Vigil case

The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — The judge hearing the public corruption case against former state Treasurer Robert Vigil on Friday dismissed the four money laundering charges against him.

U.S. District Judge James Parker also made a tentative decision to deny a defense motion seeking to throw out all or some extortion counts, and denied the defense motion to throw out the conspiracy and many of the racketeering charges.

That leaves Vigil facing 24 counts.

Vigil is accused of demanding kickbacks from investment advisers in exchange for steering state business to them. He resigned last October as lawmakers were considering whether to impeach him.

In rejecting the money laundering charges, Parker expressed concern about the government’s argument that Vigil would have known about a kickback scheme in the treasurer’s office when he served as deputy treasurer to Michael Montoya.

“But that’s not the sole basis for my ruling,” Parker said. “These four counts don’t allow the jury to find beyond reasonable doubt … all the elements the government must prove.”

Parker also had concerns about 22 extortion counts because, he said, the evidence supporting them varies. While he rejected the defense’s dismissal request, he still could dismiss some or all of the extortion charges before jurors return a verdict.

In addition to throwing out the four money laundering counts, Parker also dismissed four alleged money laundering acts included in the first count of the indictment.

After ruling, the judge called attorneys for both sides into his chambers to discuss jury instructions.

Jurors are due back Monday morning for closing arguments and could begin deliberating as early as Monday afternoon.
After the prosecution rested Wednesday, Vigil’s attorney Sam Bregman stunned the court by announcing he would call no witnesses.

He said the government “failed to even come close to proving that Robert committed any crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Parker talked to attorneys behind closed doors that afternoon, then gave the prosecution until Thursday to respond in writing to defense motions.

The prosecutors alleged Vigil knew as early as July 8, 2002, when he was deputy state treasurer, about money from illegal kickbacks being used in his election campaign.

The prosecution response said that date was the earliest prosecutors could prove Vigil knew about the illegal activity. That day, Vigil received a sheet from Angelo Garcia, an alleged bagman in the kickback scheme, that listed “contributors” to his campaign.

The list included former state Treasurer Michael Montoya, California-based investment adviser Kent Nelson, former state treasurer’s office employee Leo Sandoval and Garcia. All testified for the prosecution during the trial.

“The evidence at trial established that defendant took office as treasurer of the state of New Mexico in 2003 and took the reins of an ongoing racketeering enterprise,” prosecutors wrote.

Although Vigil told Garcia he had included funds contributed by those persons in a campaign finance report, FBI agent Margaret Russin testified that Vigil didn’t disclose the money until just before trial.

The government said Vigil knew, from the names of the contributors, that the money came from “the proceeds of criminal activity” because of his role as deputy state treasurer during 1999-2003 under former Montoya.

Garcia testified about telling Vigil he’d handle the campaign expenses — and that money was coming from Nelson, the prosecutors wrote.

Bregman has maintained Vigil never directly asked for money in exchange for state business, but prosecutors said it was illegal for Vigil to take funds through an implied agreement to award state business — and by using others to filter the funds.

“The criminal code of the United States does not distinguish between the criminal liability of principals and accomplices,” prosecutors said.