Disgraced NM politician gets name scrubbed from school library

BYE-BYE, MANNY: The school board in Albuquerque has voted to remove the name of Manny Aragon from a library at a local elementary school. The former political powerbroker pleaded guilty in 2008 siphoning $4.2 million from the Metro Courthouse Construction project.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – It took five and a half years, but the name of one of New Mexico’s most infamous politicians no longer will grace the faƧade at a local grade school in southeast Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, in a 6-0 vote with one abstention, decided Wednesday night to remove the name of former state Senate Pro Tem Manny Aragon from the library of the Lowell Elementary School, not far from where Aragon grew up.

The Manny M. Aragon Library was named for Aragon after the New Mexico powerbroker helped secure funds to construct the building on the school’s campus.

But four years after the library’s dedication, Aragon pleaded guilty to pocketing $600,000 in a scandal that siphoned off $4.2 million in the construction of Albuquerque’s Metro Courthouse.

Since that time, the school library has been a source of embarrassment for some neighbors and parents.

“This is a black eye in our neighborhood,” Isabel Cabrera told KRQE-TV last week. “As a taxpayer and a resident, he betrayed the public trust.”

TAKE IT DOWN: The site of the library on the campus of Lowell Elementary School in southeast Albuquerque.

Aragon still has some defenders — the school’s principal has floated the idea of putting up a plaque for Aragon instead.

Only board member Stephen Michael Quezada abstained from removing Aragon’s name from the library. Board members didn’t comment on their votes.

One of the state Legislature’s most powerful leaders, Aragon rose from poverty to serve 30 years in the Senate. After his time in the Roundhouse, Aragon was president of New Mexico Highlands University.

It all fell apart amid allegations linked to a money-skimming scandal.

In 2008, Aragon pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and conspiracy for his role in a scheme to defraud the state out of nearly $4.4 million in building the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse in Albuquerque. Aragon was fined $750,000 and ordered to pay $649,000 in restitution.

During the trial, prosecutors said the money Aragon pocketed came from state capital outlay dollars and, as a senator, Aragon made sure the courthouse project had enough money assigned to construction to pay him and his co-conspirators.

In 2009, Aragon was sentenced to 67 months at the Federal Correction Complex in Florence, Colo., which includes a “super max” facility that houses such inmates as “Unabomber” Ted Kacynski and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.

Last December, Aragon was released from prison six months early and has not spoken to reporters since.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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