A federal prosecutor confirmed Friday that no charges will be brought against New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and his former top aides after a probe of state contracts that cost him a post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet.
However, U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt, the state's top federal prosecutor, said the decision not to bring charges "is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party's conduct."
The probe centered on whether Richardson granted state contracts based on political patronage. It prompted the Democratic governor to withdraw his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary in January.
In a letter sent to defense attorneys, Fouratt said a yearlong federal investigation "revealed that pressure from the governor's office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process" so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor in 2004.
Richardson refused to comment on the issue during a news conference in Havana, where he was wrapping up a weeklong trade mission.
His spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement Friday that Fouratt's letter "is wrong on the facts and appears to be nothing more than sour grapes."
On Thursday, before seeing Fouratt's letter, Gallegos had said Richardson was "gratified that this yearlong investigation has ended with the vindication of his administration."
Justice Department made decision
The decision not to seek indictments was made by Justice Department officials in Washington, according to two people familiar with the case who spoke to the AP before defense lawyers received Fouratt's letter late Thursday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the case.
A department spokesman has declined to comment on the case and whether Attorney General Eric Holder played a role in deciding not to pursue charges. Fouratt didn't return telephone messages seeking further comment.
Richardson took office as governor in 2003, having served as a congressman from New Mexico, a roving diplomatic troubleshooter, President Bill Clinton's energy secretary and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Political analysts said the end of the federal probe could revive Richardson's chances of finding a place in Obama's administration. The governor's second term expires at the end of 2010 and he can't seek re-election.
Recently, Richardson has returned to the diplomatic limelight. He met with a delegation of North Koreans earlier this month in Santa Fe and he was in Cuba this week for a trade mission.
The U.S. attorney office in New Mexico began its investigation last year into the hiring of a Richardson political donor, Beverly Hills-based CDR Financial Products Inc., as a financial adviser on state transportation bond deals. The state work generated almost $1.5 million in fees for CDR in 2004-2005.
CDR chief executive David Rubin and his firm contributed $110,000 to Richardson political committees in 2003-2005.
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