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Lines are Becoming Blurred

State government in the Land of Enchantment is mired in corruption with one investigation being launched after another. The lack of indictments and swift action is beginning to take a toll. Now, every incident is being viewed as a pay to play scenario:

“Hi Commish! I know you’re getting pressure from our friend to resolve Mr. Atencio’s issue. I know it is taking a while but it by no means (is) being ignored. It is being redesigned completely to address his concerns.”

That e-mail from a top New Mexico Department of Transportation official has helped reignite an inquiry into whether an Española businessman whose property is needed for a $68 million road project received special treatment from the state.

DOT officials redesigned a portion of the planned reconstruction of U.S. 84-285 last fall after receiving complaints from restaurant owner Luis Atencio. Atencio is one of more than 40 property owners whose northern New Mexico land is needed for project right of way. So far, he has refused to sell.

State Transportation Secretary Gary Girón asked for the internal investigation on May 26 after e-mails surfaced showing that DOT second-in-command Rebecca Montoya and Jim Franken, vice chairman of the state Transportation Commission, got involved in Atencio’s right-of-way fight earlier this year. The “Hi Commish” e-mail was sent from Montoya to Franken on Jan. 5.

This is the second time in six months the DOT’s office of inspector general has looked into the allegation of special treatment.

It is noted in the article that Mr. Atencio made significant contributions to both the Governor’s presidential campaign and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan’s campaign. But, here is the thing. Pay to play, works this way. An individual makes a contribution, and then receives a special favor in return. That would be criminal.

However, if the same individual seeks and receives constituent service, and then turns around and makes a political contribution, that would not be an illegal activity. The problem we have is that since so much pay to play corruption in New Mexico is occurring without prosecution that the lines are now becoming blurred.

One of the unintended consequences of not prosectuing criminals in government is that before long, elected officials and government employees are going to have an excuse to insulate themseleves from everyday citizens for fear of appearing to act in improperly.