Iglesias: Pueblo Leader's Claim 'Infuriating'

By David Collins

Oct. 27, 2007, The Santa Fe New Mexican

 

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on Sunday fired back at Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera, who last week accused the current U.S. attorney of mounting a politically motivated investigation of pueblo allies.

Rivera on Friday said that Iglesias and U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez refused to prosecute tribal members for crimes committed on private lands within pueblo boundaries even after Congress in 2005 affirmed federal jurisdiction in what had been called a "prosecution-free zone." He said Gomez's office retaliated with subpoenas, which seek tribal records and for tribal members to appear at a Nov. 6 grand jury, soon after Rivera criticized Iglesias last spring in an opinion column in The New Mexican.

"I should've responded back in April when George first attacked me, but I didn't because I was fighting bigger battles," Iglesias said in a telephone interview with The New Mexican.

Iglesias was among eight U.S. attorneys fired last year in a controversial sweep that resulted in a backlash against the White House. Iglesias said he was fired after he refused to fast-track an investigation of state Democrats so prosecution would start during the 2006 election cycle.

In Rivera's April 1 opinion column, he said Iglesias was fired for poor performance and that he deserved it because he didn't adequately prosecute crimes reported by pueblos, where federal authorities have exclusive jurisdiction in major criminal cases. Rivera said the office neglected several cases, but one case that involved a crime on private land inside the pueblo became a centerpiece of efforts to turn all tribal prosecution in New Mexico over to state courts.

Iglesias said his office routinely prosecuted tribal members for crimes on private land inside the reservation until a state judge ruled such prosecutions illegal in 2001 or 2002. After that ruling, Iglesias said, he helped get the federal law amended.

"The reason there is a Pueblo Lands Act is because I made a presentation," Iglesias said.

Iglesias said he brought together state, tribal and Justice Department officials to craft a legislative solution for the dilemma of who could prosecute when crimes occur on private land inside a reservation. President Bush in 2005 signed an amended 1924 law to assert federal jurisdiction on private lands inside reservation boundaries. "For him to say I did nothing is infuriating," Iglesias said.

What most incensed Iglesias was Rivera's claim that Iglesias was fired for poor job performance. Nobody in Washington ever hinted at poor performance involving anything to do with tribal prosecutions, Iglesias said. He said his office routinely had the third highest number of Indian Country prosecutions in the nation, only trailing federal prosecutors in Arizona and South Dakota. His office received glowing reviews from Justice Department inspectors in 2003 and 2006, he said.

Nobody ever told him why he was fired, Iglesias said.

Claims that he was fired for poor performance likely originated with the congressional testimony of assistant attorney general Will Moschella, Iglesias said. Moschella said Iglesias delegated too much work and was away from the office too often.

About 35 or 45 days a [year], Iglesias said, he serves reserve duty with the U.S. Navy. He said the Office of Special Counsel, created after the 1970s Watergate controversy, is investigating whether his firing for absenteeism violates U.S. law that protects the jobs of reservists. Iglesias expects another investigative report from the Office of Inspector General within the next month to criticize former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his role in firing the eight prosecutors.

Iglesias said it's most telling that Gonzales, White House strategist Karl Rove and 10 other officials resigned in the wake of the firings scandal.

As evidence that he had a productive relationship with Pojoaque, Iglesias provided The New Mexican a photograph of himself and Rivera in which Rivera is handing him a bound copy of the revised Pueblo Lands Act. Rivera said the presentation was intended to mend fences with the prosecutor's office.

The 2006 meeting eroded into a shouting match after Iglesias left the room, Rivera said. By Rivera's account, the shouting started when state attorney general staff and assistant U.S. attorneys tried to persuade Rivera and attorneys for Taos Pueblo to contract with the state to prosecute crimes that occur on reservations.

Iglesias said he started work a couple of weeks ago as an adviser for the Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton, a global consulting firm. He also is working on a book, to be published by Wiley Publishers next May or June, that details the attorney-firings controversy from his point of view.