Pueblo Alleges Retaliation by U.S. Attorney

By David Collins

Oct. 26, 2007, The Santa Fe New Mexican


Pueblo of Pojoaque Gov. George Rivera on Friday accused interim U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez of investigating political allies of the pueblo in retaliation for an opinion column Rivera wrote that was published in The New Mexican on April 1. The column said U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was justifiably fired last year because of poor job performance.

The pueblo has hired criminal attorneys to represent several pueblo members who have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury Nov. 6, Rivera said.

A spokesman for Gomez's office declined to discuss the matter. "We don't comment on grand jury proceedings," said Norman Cairns, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque. He said the office would not confirm or deny information about an ongoing investigation, including reports of federal investigation of a state political figure.

Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, who is a consultant to Pojoaque Pueblo, said Friday that two FBI agents visited her home about a month ago but left after she refused to answer their questions. "I indicated to them I wouldn't answer any questions until I know more. I didn't know what was on their mind," she said.

Rodriguez said she has worked as a consultant for the pueblo since 1993 and earns about $45,000 a year for analyzing federal legislation and helping with public relations activities related to the pueblo's sovereignty.

A former Santa Fe County manager, she was elected to the Senate in 1996. As a senator, Rodriguez has supported legislation that brought thousands of dollars in state funds to the pueblo. "I feel very sad that my fulfilling my responsibility to my community as a senator is being questioned," she said.

In his New Mexican opinion column, Rivera wrote that Iglesias deserved to be fired because he failed to investigate major crimes committed on the pueblo.

Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired in 2006. The reason was performance-related, according to a U.S. assistant attorney general. Iglesias, however, said he was dismissed because he refused to submit to Republican pressure to ramp up investigations of Democrats.

"The bottom line is, the U.S. Attorney's Office is not doing their job on Indian lands," Rivera said Friday.

He said in the column he had given Iglesias information about allegations of fraud but the U.S. Attorney's Office had lost the files in the case. He also said "nonaction" by Iglesias had led Congress to pass legislation "clarifying that the federal government had jurisdiction over all crimes involving Indians within the pueblos."

Even after that law was passed, Rivera said Friday, Iglesias refused to prosecute a tribal member accused of a violent 2002 attack against a nontribal member on private land inside the pueblo boundary.

When FBI agents subpoenaed tribal accounting records in April, Rivera said, the pueblo cooperated with the investigation. He said Friday that the U.S. Attorney's Office told him at the time that it was investigating money laundering by an unidentified person.

On Friday, the pueblo released e-mail correspondence between tribal Judge Frank Demolli and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Higgins in which the federal prosecutor sought pueblo educational and financial records related to a fraud allegation. Rivera told Iglesias about the allegations that Demolli had asked the government to investigate.

"We thought something was finally moving, but they were moving on us," Rivera said.

In September, an FBI investigation heated up, with agents reportedly paying evening visits to pueblo homes, Rivera said. He said the U.S. Attorney's Office had initially agreed to limit the scope of inquiry into tribal records but later demanded all records involving any political donation since 1996. That's when the pueblo hired criminal attorneys.

One FBI agent, according to Rivera, said his office had been ordered to clean up politics in New Mexico and told a pueblo member that innocent people could get hurt in the process.

In a written statement, Rivera said Friday that the pueblo is not ashamed of its relationships with elected officials and "won't stand for a fishing expedition into the pueblo's political decisions."

The records federal prosecutors sought would fill several trucks and cost thousands of dollars to assemble, and some of them can't be compiled because they were created as long as 10 years ago, Rivera said.

Rodriguez said when a reporter called her Friday that it was the first she had heard of a possible investigation into state political figures. "I haven't been served any subpoenas or anything," she said.

Demolli, who also is lead counsel for Pojoaque Pueblo, said he filed a motion Thursday seeking to quash a subpoena for his appearance before the Nov. 6 grand jury.

His motion asserts that his conversations with pueblo leaders are protected by the attorney-client privilege, Demolli said. He also said any information he might have about the late Pojoaque Gov. Jake Viarrial could not be used in court because it would be hearsay and Viarrial could not be called to corroborate or rebut it.

Rivera said he will file abuse-of-power allegations against Gomez with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility and report allegations of attorney misconduct by Gomez to the state Supreme Court.