Dirty Politics Alleged in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - Former employees of New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez and state Democrats were involved in a wider conspiracy to steal staff emails from her campaign web domain to give to political opponents, a federal lawsuit claims.
Crystal Amaya, Brad Cates, former Martinez deputy chief of staff Brian Moore and former Martinez administrative assistant Kim Ronquillo sued attorney and state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman, Democratic consultant Jason Loera, former Martinez campaign manager Jaime Estrada, private investigator and alleged "Democratic operative" Michael Corwin and former Martinez personal assistant Anissa Galassini-Ford, on June 27.
Amaya and Cates say they sent email messages to the campaign domain.
Estrada pleaded guilty on June 17 to two federal counts relating to the theft of the email messages from the Susana2010.com domain that Martinez's staff continued to use after her inauguration.
Prosecutors said Estrada changed the settings for the domain to direct incoming male to his address about 18 months after he left the campaign. Estrada admitted he lied to FBI agents who executed a search warrant at his home in September 2012, denying he used a prepaid gift card to pay for the domain's renewal so it could not be traced back to him.
"The intercepted emails included personal emails, internal political communications and emails from ordinary citizens to the governor or her staff," prosecutors said. "In his plea agreement, Estrada admitted sharing the emails he unlawfully intercepted with the governor's political opponents to disseminate the emails to news media and other outlets."
The new 20-page complaint claims that a conspiracy larger than Estrada was behind the thefts.
Estrada allegedly sent an email message expressing frustration with his removal from the campaign in December 2009, writing: "I can't understand how she wouldn't think there are political consequences for treating me poorly and unfairly," according to the new lawsuit.
"Defendants Estrada and/or Loera shared plaintiffs' private and confidential emails and hundreds of other emails with defendants Bregman, Corwin, Galassini-Ford and others, who would be likely to attempt to use the stolen emails to injure, harm and damage Governor Martinez and others," the complaint states. "Upon information and believe, defendant Loera, directly or by and through others, provided stolen emails to defendant Corwin, a political opposition researcher who runs the Independent Source PAC, a liberal political committee."
Corwin published one of the email messages on the PAC's website, the complaint alleges.
Martinez's office could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Bregman, with Bregman Loman in Albuquerque, said the lawsuit was without merit and is an attempt at distracting voters from Martinez's record as governor.
"I always thought Republicans were against frivolous lawsuits but now they want to push a frivolous political circus into the judicial arena," Bregman told the Albuquerque Journal on Friday.
Corwin told the newspaper he believes the email messages were public records, though they were sent on private accounts. He said he handed over the messages to the New Mexico Attorney General at the request of criminal investigators.
"As will be shown in court, this case is really about open government and free speech," Corwin told the Journal.
Loera's attoney, David Serna in Albuquerque, told the Journal his client has been working to "vindicate" himself of the allegations surrounding the emails.
The plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages for conspiracy and violations of the Federal Wiretap Act and Stored Communications Act. They are represented by Angelo Artuso in Albuquerque and Mark Braden with Baker Hostetler in Washington, D.C.