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Richardson advisor worked for firm under investigation

The friend and fundraiser was once employed by the Beverly Hills company at the center of a federal inquiry.

January 08, 2009|Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. — One of Gov. Bill Richardson's close friends and advisors worked as a consultant for the Beverly Hills firm at the center of a federal "pay-to-play" inquiry that derailed the governor's appointment as Commerce secretary.

Mike Stratton's consulting firm worked for CDR Financial Products Inc. to advise on business in New Mexico at the time the company was hired to work on bond deals with the New Mexico Finance Authority.

Federal investigators are scrutinizing whether CDR's work, for which it earned nearly $1.5 million, was influenced by political contributions that CDR and its chief executive, David Rubin, made to Richardson's political committees.

Stratton, a longtime Democratic political consultant, has been friends with Richardson for more than 25 years. He advised Richardson -- and raised money for him -- during the governor's failed bid for the 2008 presidential nomination.

Stratton did not immediately return telephone messages Wednesday.

Richardson said Wednesday there was no wrongdoing in how the state awarded the work to CDR.

"In my view, the state and its officials have done nothing wrong. They behaved with the best of intentions and the best conduct," Richardson said at a news conference in Albuquerque.

Stratton worked for CDR as a business development consultant until at least 2007, CDR spokesman Allan Ripp said. He was not sure exactly when Stratton started working for the company but said it was in the early 2000s. Richardson took office in January 2003.

Stratton's consulting did not have "anything to do with political contributions," Ripp said.

CDR and Rubin contributed $110,000 to Richardson political committees in 2003-05.

The largest contribution was made in 2004 and helped pay expenses for some of Richardson's staff and supporters at the Democratic National Convention. Stratton worked with the governor during the convention, helping Richardson carry out his role as convention chairman.

The $75,000 contribution was made June 18, 2004, just days before CDR was awarded a no-competition state contract to reinvest bond escrow proceeds.

The state finance authority's chief financial officer recommended CDR for the work in a memo dated June 23, 2004, and the authority's board approved the selection June 30.

Bill Sisneros, head of the finance authority, said he received numerous calls from Stratton's firm in June 2004. But, he said, "Nobody ever instructed me to use them."

The escrow restructuring was approved by the authority's board as a "sole source procurement" of services with CDR -- with no competitive bid process before the firm's selection. Sisneros said the agency needed to act fast before the reinvestment was precluded by a change in federal regulations.

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