NINE MONTHS IN PRISON: Jamie Estrada leaves an Albuquerque federal courthouse after getting a nine-month sentence for hacking into the email account of Gov. Susana Martinez, whom he used to work for.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Email hacking is a crime and a former campaign manager who turned on the Republican governor in New Mexico is going to do time.
Jamie Estrada was sentenced to nine months in federal prison Wednesday for breaking into the email campaign account of Gov. Susana Martinez and disseminating some of the messages to her political opponents
“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Judge William “Chip” Johnson, quoting scripture as he passed the sentence onto Estrada who pled guilty earlier this year to intercepting the governor’s email and lying to the FBI about it.
Johnson said he considered agreeing with federal prosecutors, who argued for one year and one day in prison, but Johnson knocked off three months because Estrada is the primary caretaker for a brother who is suffering from potentially fatal non-alcoholic liver disease.
In one of the most dramatic moments in the three-hour sentencing hearing, Martinez read a statement, saying, “I am here as a victim, not as the governor”
Martinez said Estrada “manipulated” his way into the Martinez campaign for governor in 2009, only to attack her with the stolen emails after he was turned down for employment in the Martinez administration following her victory in November 2010.
“The only deterrence is with a maximum sentence,” Martinez said, addressing the judge. “That will tell the next person it’s not worth it.”
Near the end of the hearing, Estrada addressed the judge and said he was sorry for “my indulgent behavior and lack of self control” and apologized to Martinez and those whose emails he intercepted after working for the Martinez campaign.
“My career is in ruins,” said Estrada, who once served in the administration of George W. Bush, holds two bachelor’s degrees, an MBA from Georgetown University and had what seemed to be a promising political career in New Mexico.
Estrada admitted in court that he “took full advantage” of his access to the emails, turning over many of them to Martinez opponents and others connected to the Democratic Party in the state.
“It’s sad that given such a stellar and impressive background, we’re here today,” said Johnson said just before pronouncing the sentence.
Estrada and his attorney, Zachary Ives, did not answer questions from reporters after the sentence was issued. In addition to the nine-month sentence, Estrada was fined $10,000 and must perform 100 hours of community service once he’s done serving his time.
Estrada was not taken into custody afterwards. He’ll be allowed at least 60 days to report to the U.S. Marshall for incarceration.
“We’re pleased with the conviction,” was all that federal prosecutor Fred Federici said to reporters.
“He certainly expressed an apology to the governor,” said Albuquerque attorney and Republican activist Pat Rogers, whose emails were among hundreds that were intercepted, said. “I’m not sure how much further than that Mr. Estrada feels or believes. I’m very sorry for all the people that were injured by this, including his own family. But when someone steals emails and disseminates stolen emails and lies about it, they should expect to do prison time.”
Prosecutors argued for the one-year sentence, citing a similar punishment given to a former University of Tennessee student who hacked into former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s email account during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Estrada left the Martinez campaign in December 2009. He contends he left on his own volition but Martinez and her campaign advisor, Jay McCleskey, contend he was fired.
In an email to McCleskey, Estrada reportedly wrote, “I can’t understand how [Martinez] wouldn’t think there are political consequences for treating me poorly or unfairly.”
Estrada was not hired by the Martinez administration and was also unable to get a job at the office of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican.
After Estrada parted ways with Martinez, he kept his password to the susana2010.com account and later re-activated the account using a fake name and fake address from a Chipotle restaurant in Colorado.
After initially pleading not guilty, Estrada pled guilty in June, admitting to passing along embarrassing emails to Martinez opponents, some of them with ties to the state’s Democratic Party.
Prosecutors also said that Estrada also tried to harm the campaign of Amy Orlando, a Martinez ally who ran an unsuccessful campaign for district attorney in Doña Ana County.
John D’Antonio, a Democrat who defeated Orlando in a bitterly-fought race, was one of 69 people who wrote letters supporting Estrada and urging Judge Johnson to sentence Estrada to probation rather than prison time.
Orlando herself is now the focus of an email controversy for allegedly destroying electronic communications before leaving office.
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 at one time worked for congressman Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and 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.”