SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - The state Board of Finance Tuesday approved a controversial 25-year lease for the Downs at Albuquerque at the state fairgrounds.
Members led by Gov. Susana Martinez, who chairs and appoints the board, voted unanimously for the lease.
Before the vote, however, Martinez told fellow board members she had written a letter to the three owners of the Downs racino asking if they were the subject of or participating in any state or federal investigations.
"In the response by Mr. Blanchard he does indicate that he is a witness in a federal prosecution, that at this time he is not a target, that it is, we believe, part of an ongoing investigation involving Governor Richardson," Martinez said.
That grand jury investigation is into possible campaign finance violations while he was a presidential candidate in 2007.
Martinez then brought up the executive order she signed that prohibits the state from doing business with anyone who has any sort of corruption in their past.
An attorney for the Downs told the board in light of this investigation Paul Blanchard, who was a long-time political supporter of Richardson, entered into a shareholders agreement with the other two owners stating he would forfeit his shares if he becomes a target in the investigation
The Board of Finance then moved onto questions for Expo New Mexico, which runs the state fairgrounds, bringing up claims from some people that the process was rushed and secretive.
Expo interim manager Dan Mourning once again denied those claims.
The Downs lease proposal beat out the only other bidder, Laguna Development Corporation, which runs the Route 66 Casino.
Members of the State Fair Commission last month voted 4-3 to approve the lease with one commissioner claiming the bid process was rushed to assure the Downs remained the operator.
It took finance board members about two hours to get all of their questions answered before they voted unanimously to approve the lease.
"I feel very strongly that this is a positive thing especially the impact of new jobs that are going to be created by people that have been out of the workforce for many, many years not only short term but long term," Mourning said after the vote.
The lease is now essentially a done deal, but the Board of Finance can still ask for some changes before the lease is officially awarded to the Downs.
Expo New Mexico said the official awarding of the lease will probably happen by the end of the year.
Under the new lease the Downs will pay Expo New Mexico $2 million a year in rent until 2014 when it goes up to $2.75 million.
It will also build a new $20 million casino on the property.
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