Richardson administration and CDR pay for play investigation
Updated: Wednesday, 14 Oct 2009, 5:58 PM MDT
Published : Wednesday, 26 Aug 2009, 10:33 PM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The U.S. Department of Justice has decided not to seek criminal indictments against Gov. Bill Richardson or former high-ranking members of his administration in what has been referred to as the "pay-to-play" deal.
For the last year federal investigators have been looking into whether a California investment firm, CDR Financial Products, got state contracts in exchange for political contributions.
During a visit to Albuquerque in June 2009 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to say anything about the corruption case.
"Well I don't comment on either the existence or non-existence of investigations and when we have something that we are publicly ready to say we will say it," he said.
But, News 13 has learned, top Justice Department officials in Washington, after reviewing the evidence for several months, recently decided not to seek indictments.
The case centers on the financing of road construction in New Mexico. In 2004, the California firm CDR was paid $1.5 million to help with the complicated financing of road projects. Around the time CDR received the contracts, CDR executives donated roughly $100,000 to political action committees set up by Governor Richardson. Much of that money was used to cover expenses for him and his staff at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. The two CDR contracts attracted the FBI's attention.
The FBI began its probe 14 months ago. Agents wanted to know if the contributions were linked to the state contracts, in other words, was CDR required to pay to play?
As part of the investigation, a federal grand jury in Albuquerque gathered documents and heard testimony from a variety of witnesses.
Published news reports say the grand jury focused on the Governor, his former Chief of Staff, David Contarino and on David Harris, the former Executive Director of the New Mexico Finance Authority.
Richardson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and in January he also defended Contarino: "Dave Contarino is an outstanding public servant ... he was my chief of staff ...utmost integrity, talent."
Although this investigation now appears to be over, it has taken a toll.
In December, then-President-elect Barack Obama nominated Richardson to be commerce secretary.
"Bill has seen from almost every angle what makes the economy work," Obama said.
However, a month later, the corruption investigation forced Richardson to withdraw his nomination.
"Yesterday I was hurting over this decision. I lost a cabinet appointment," Richardson said during a news conference.
There will be no formal announcement from the Justice Department about the conclusion of this investigation but the government's decision could be publicly known as early as Thursday.
Although the CDR investigation is dead, the Richardson administration is not in the clear as far as the feds are concerned. There are still several ongoing corruption investigations in the state, including a federal probe into state investment practices.
Richardson is currently in Cuba on a trade mission and will not be back in the state until Friday.