Wednesday, October 15, 2008

White Claims He Raised Flag on Aragon Long Ago

Today, former Senate President Pro Tem, State Senator Manny Aragon pleaded guilty to three charges of conspiracy and mail fraud in a public corruption scandal surrounding the construction of the downtown Metropolitan Courthouse. Earlier, Aragon’s co-defendants pleaded guilty to corruption charges earlier this week and agreed to provide federal prosecutors information on millions of dollars in kickbacks to Manny Aragon, who was working to secure their construction contract.

Now Darren White, who served as Secretary of Department of Public Safety [DPS) says he raised the flag on the "bought and paid for Aragon," long ago.

White's campaign released the following statement:
Former State Senator Manny Aragon has a long history of shady deals, unethical behavior, strong-arm tactics, and huge conflicts-of-interests when he controlled the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

As the Associated Press reported, when Darren White served as the Secretary of Public Safety in Governor Gary Johnson’s Administration, Darren ‘did what few in state government have dared to do: publicly criticize Aragon’s involvement in debates and legislative decision about privately operated prisons in New Mexico.’ As Darren correctly pointed out, Manny Aragon was a ‘bought and paid for’ consultant for the industry he was in charge of regulating.

Along those same lines, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported on Aragon’s power ‘play’ where he was ‘pandering to the police-officers’ union,’ and orchestrated the ‘crass politic[al]’ stunt of the New Mexico State Police Association’s vote of no confidence. The paper concluded that the vote of no confidence was ‘reason enough for the rest of our state’s population to be glad he’s [Darren White] the top cop.’

Darren White has long fought against shady deals, corruption, and ethics violations throughout his career – from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. When he is elected to Congress Darren will continue do the same thing and fight for the citizens of New Mexico.

Darren White will shake up the political bosses, shady lobbyists, and the traditional power-brokers in Washington, D.C., and promises to govern in an open and transparent manner ....

White released these two articles as proof of his concern years ago:
Legislators decide the rules governing their ethical behavior

Associated Press

12 September 1999

SANTA FE (AP) - New Mexico's recent prison troubles could force the Legislature to undergo a bit of self-examination and rethink the ethical rules that govern the conduct of lawmakers.

As the Legislature tries to organize an investigation into privately operated prisons, questions are resurfacing whether the Senate's top leader has a conflict of interest in dealing with prison-related matters.

It's unlikely those questions will go away soon. And if the issue lingers long enough, it could focus public attention on what a national watchdog group says are flawed ethics laws governing legislators in New Mexico and other states.

"Taken together, the financial disclosure rules that apply to the nation's state legislators may be more loophole than law," the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based research group, said in a report earlier this year.

At the center of the ethics dispute in New Mexico is Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque. He's a paid consultant to Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the Florida-based company with a multi-million-dollar contract to hold state inmates in its prisons at Hobbs and Santa Rosa.

Since December, four inmates and a guard have died at Wackenhut prisons. That's prompted the calls for an independent investigation into private prisons.

Aragon is among those pushing for an investigation. He says his business interests with Wackenhut pose no conflict with his legislative duties because the prison consulting work involves matters outside of New Mexico.

Aragon also says he's being unfairly singled out for ethical scrutiny. He suggests similar conflict of interest questions apply to the business interests of New Mexico's other part-time citizen legislators - from teachers and ranchers to liquor retailers and oil producers.

But last week, Public Safety Secretary Darren White did what few in state government have dared to do: publicly criticize Aragon's involvement in debates and legislative decisions about privately operated prisons in New Mexico.

State Republican Chairman John Dendahl took up where White left off.

Dendahl asked Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, to determine whether Aragon's consulting work for Wackenhut posed a conflict of interest.

Madrid turned down Dendahl's request. Only elected and appointed officials or prosecutors can ask for legal opinions from the attorney general's office, she said.

Dendahl isn't giving up. He plans to have a legislator pose the conflict of interest question to Madrid.

And Dendahl has other options if that doesn't work.

A legislator can ask for an advisory opinion from the interim Legislative Ethics Committee. Any citizen can file an ethics complaint with the Legislature about the conduct of a member of the House or Senate. A complaint alleging ethical misconduct could lead to an investigation, hearing and disciplinary action.

But the controversy about Aragon's Wackenhut job also raises larger questions about New Mexico's ethics laws.

According to the report by the Center for Public Integrity, New Mexico deserved a "barely passing" grade for its law that requires lawmakers and state officials to disclose some information about their personal financial interests.

The center said New Mexico's law, like most others across the country, had too many loopholes that allowed legislators to "keep a wide range of private business activities and interests from public view."

State law requires lawmakers to list the sources of gross income of more than $5,000 - but not the exact amount or even broad ranges of their earnings from jobs or investments. And the sources of money need only be described in broad categories - such as "law practice" or "consulting operation" or "oil and gas."

Moreover, lawyers and consultants are not required to disclose the names of their clients.

In Aragon's financial disclosure report, filed in January, "consulting" is listed as a source of income for his law practice. There's no mention of Wackenhut or any other client, however.

The center's report said detailed financial disclosures are particularly vital in the states like New Mexico that have part-time legislators because "legislative service is often just one of several hats they wear."

"If they (legislators) fully disclose those activities and interests, others - their constituents, news organizations and their peers in the legislature - are at least armed with the information they need to decide whether a particular lawmaker's actions have been influenced by factors other than the public good," the report concluded.


White attacks Aragon for Wackenhut job

Albuquerque Tribune

9 September 1999

Was Senate President Manny Aragon working for the people of New Mexico or for Wackenhut Corrections Corp.?

It was a serious question raised by the state's head of public safety on Wednesday during a briefing on prison matters.

"Senator Aragon has to choose," Darren White, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said. "He's either an employee of Wackenhut or the Senate Pro Tem."

White angrily stomped out of the closed meeting between legislators and Wackenhut officials at the federal courthouse Downtown.

Aragon chaired the briefing of the legislative leadership about recent private-prison events. Wackenhut officials and Corrections Secretary Rob Perry also attended. Aragon and House Speaker Raymond Sanchez arranged it.

Aragon took a paid consulting job with Wackenhut in 1998 shortly after the state entered into agreements with two New Mexico counties to rent prison cells from Wackenhut.

"It's just a travesty, given the man who is chairing is an employee of that company," White said.

Aragon said he did nothing wrong.

"I have no idea what he is talking about," Aragon, a South Valley Democrat, said. "I wear my Senate Pro Tem hat every day.

"There are no sacred cows in this thing," Aragon said. "It if turns out Wackenhut hasn't done its job, . . . they should be removed from the state of New Mexico."

"It's an egregious conflict of interest for a legislator who is bought and paid for by Wackenhut to say he's approaching this issue from an objective standpoint," White said.

Aragon has defended his role with Wackenhut, saying he only consults for the company in other states.

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, majority whip and Aragon's second-in-command, also defended him.

"I think Senator Aragon was there as a concerned leader, not as a Wackenhut employee," the Las Cruces Democrat said.

Last year, legislators including some Senate Democrats admonished Aragon, an attorney, for taking the side job.

Aragon held on to the top job in the Senate, promising that he would distance himself from policy issues involving Wackenhut.

White said Aragon and Wackenhut are putting a political spin on the riots.

"Wackenhut and Senator Aragon are blaming all this on the Corrections Department and the inmate-classification system," White said. "Wackenhut was doing the presentation likelife was good, and why shouldn't it be when they've got that guy on the payroll? It's disgusting."


Leave State Police in Darren White's hands

Santa Fe New Mexican

22 October 1999

So Darren White's a bit of a hot dog. And Manny Aragon isn't?

Boss man of the New Mexico Senate, Aragon is leading a legislative effort to separate the State Police from the Department of Public Safety over which White presides.

The Albuquerque senator won unanimous support this week from the Legislative Finance Committee. Undoubtedly he'll ram a bill through the Legislature when it convenes in January presumably to consider weightier matters.

Gov. Gary Johnson is likely to veto this attempt at a police-barracks coup, and even though the Republican governor is embarrassing many GOP legislators to tears with his drug-legalizing obsession, we're confident most Republicans would rally 'round the governor and Secretary White if it came to an override vote.

Aragon's play, then, is merely to the gallery, where he's pandering to the police-officers' union and scoring points off a man who couldn't even defend himself. Secretary White is awaiting back surgery, and could make the finance-committee hearing at which Sen. Aragon dismissed him as "more walk than talk." Whatever that meant in Aragonese, it was no compliment to White, an Albuquerque cop given a big-time lift when our quirky governor took office nearly five years ago.

White may be the most pleasant surprise in the Johnson cabinet. He's proven himself an excellent listener not to the suits stalking the Roundhouse, but to the working people whose taxes pay his salary.

Last month's narcotics raid on Chimayo resulted from White's willingness to hear what the people of the area had to say about drug thugs and other law-enforcers' unwillingness, or inability, to do anything about them.

Where cop cars of other colors wouldn't go, the black-and-gold "staters" have made their presence felt for the past three years. Undercover officers also were hard at work in the arroyos of the Santa Cruz Valley.

Federal narcotics agents were called in, and a combined force swooped down on the headquarters of several suspected druggies; nearly three dozen indictees were taken out of circulation.

Were White concentrating solely on Chimayo, and neglecting New Mexico's other 121,000 square miles, Aragon might have cause for making the State Police an independent agency, as it has been off and on. The senator says he's been talking about it for years. By bringing it up in the wake of the well-executed Chimayo raid, however, Sen. Aragon calls his own motives into question.

Were a Democrat in the governor's mansion, and the DPS secretary a Democratic appointee, would the Democrats running the Roundhouse be so hot to trot out a reorganization plan?

Last month, White was given a vote of no confidence from the New Mexico State Police Association; reason enough for the rest of our state's population to be glad he's the top cop. Sen. Aragon's assault, too, should be viewed from the framework of crass politics thus as evidence in favor of leaving the State Police under White's demanding leadership.

Photo Credit: MG Bralley

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