Pojoaque Pueblo governor claims retaliation by U.S. attorney’s office

Pojoaque Pueblo, New Mexico (AP)

Pueblo Gov. George Rivera is accusing interim U.S. Attorney Larry Gomez of investigating political allies of the pueblo in retaliation for an opinion column Rivera wrote criticizing Gomez’s predecessor for poor job performance.

Norm Cairns, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Albuquerque declined to say whether the office is investigating anyone in connection with the northern New Mexico pueblo.

Rivera said the U.S. attorney’s office has demanded all records involving any political donation since 1996 and several pueblo members, including the lead counsel, were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury Nov. 6. In a statement, the governor said 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.”

He noted that the records federal prosecutors have asked for would fill several trucks and cost thousands of dollars to assemble.

Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, said Friday that two FBI agents visited her home about a month ago but left after she refused to answer their questions. Rodriguez said she hasn’t been subpoenaed.

Her attorney, Bob Gorence, said he believes the federal investigation surrounds gifts from former pueblo Gov. Jacob Viarrial to Rodriguez to help handicapped children, including the state senator’s son who recently died.

Rivera said all activity between the pueblo and Rodriguez is legal.

Rodriguez has worked as a consultant to Pojoaque 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.

As a senator, she has supported legislation that brought thousands of dollars in state funds to the pueblo.

“I feel very sad that fulfilling my responsibility to my community as a senator is being questioned,” she said.

In Rivera’s opinion column published in April in The Santa Fe New Mexican, he wrote that former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias deserved to be fired because he failed to investigate major crimes committed on the pueblo.

“The bottom line is, the U.S. attorney’s office is not doing their job on Indian lands,” Rivera said Friday.

That includes refusing to prosecute a tribal member accused of a violent 2002 attack against a nontribal member on private land inside the pueblo boundary, Rivera said.

Rivera said he plans to 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.

Rivera said FBI agents subpoenaed tribal accounting records in April, and the pueblo cooperated. At the time, Rivera said he was told the U.S. attorney’s office was investigating money laundering by an unidentified person.

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

“We though something was finally moving, but they were moving on us,” Rivera said.

Demolli, who also serves as lead counsel for the pueblo, has moved to quash a subpoena for his appearance before the grand jury next month.

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