Former campaign official pleads guilty to hacking emails of NM governor

PLEADS GUILTY OF HACKING EMAILS: Former campaign manager Jamie Estrada leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in Albuquerque after pleading guilty to hacking the email account of Gov. Susana Martinez. Photo by New Mexico Watchdog.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Federal prosecutors say it was a 21st political crime with an old-fashioned result.

The former campaign manager for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez pleaded guilty in federal court of hacking into the email account belonging to the Martinez, passing them on to political opponents and then lying about it to FBI agents.

“We as citizens in the community, we have an expectation of privacy when we receive an email and it’s wrong for anybody to unlawfully intercept that email, which is what occurred in this case,” U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, District of New Mexico, told New Mexico Watchdog after Jamie Estrada entered into a plea agreement to unlawful interception of wire communications intended for others and false statement charges — each felonies.

Estrada faces up to one year and one day in prison plus potential fines. Sentencing is expected within the next 75 days in Albuquerque.

Why did he do it? Estrada did not speak to reporters after making his plea before federal magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia.

“I can’t speak for Jamie Estrada,” Damon Martinez said.

But when Estrada was first indicted last year, Gov. Martinez accused him of hacking into the email account after he was let go by the Martinez campaign and then passing the intercepted emails to her political opponents out of spite.

“I knew the defendant to be a man of suspect character,” Martinez said in a statement May 30, 2013. “That is why I fired him from my campaign in 2009 and why I rejected him for a position within my administration after being elected.”

Estrada at first pleaded innocent, saying that the Martinez administration officials were trying to “divert attention from their own improper actions,” including charges of trying to rig the bid for a contract at the Albuquerque Downs racino, something the Martinez administration vociferously denied.

In Monday’s plea agreement, Estrada admitted, “I gave the emails to Governor Martinez’s political opponents knowing that certain emails would be disseminated to others.”

Damon Martinez would not say whether any of the recipients of the intercepted emails are being investigated.

“We’re here to talk about the Jamie Estrada case,” he said.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Estrada accessed the email account in July of 2011 by using a fictitious name and renewed the account using a prepaid gift card to cover his tracks. He then changed the domain’s settings so that he would receive the emails instead of the recipients in the Martinez camp. The Attorney’s Office says the intercepted communications included personal emails, internal political communications and emails from ordinary citizens.

“That violation is very similar to wire tapping,” Special Agent Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, said.

In one of the strange offshoots of the Estrada case, former Democratic Party employee Jason Loera is facing child pornography charges.

Federal agents say they were investigating whether Loera had received some of the stolen emails. When FBI computer specialists looked at the computers and compact discs found at a house they say was occupied by Loera, “the examiners identified four writable CDs which appeared to contain images of child pornography,” according to an affidavit.

Loera has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court and a trial is scheduled to begin in two weeks before Judge James O. Browning.

Loera once worked for congressman Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, as well as former Democratic activist and now chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, Sam Bregman.

“We are shocked to hear about the indictment,” Luján spokesman Andrew Stoddard said after news of the arrest of Loera was made. “These are very serious charges and they deserve to be fully addressed through the legal system.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of U.S. Attorney Martinez talking about the Estrada plea on Monday:

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

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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