A former campaign manager for Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday pleaded guilty to stealing emails that ended up in the hands of her political opponents, then lying to the FBI about how he did it.
Jamie Estrada, 42, and his attorney, Zachary Ives, had no comment as they left U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
Martinez issued a statement thanking the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.
"Today's guilty plea vindicates what I have said from the beginning, which is that these personal and private emails were indeed stolen," she said.
"This is a case about a fired former employee who wasn't given a state job and then sought to get even by illegally intercepting personal emails from numerous individuals, including personal bank account statements and my personal undergarment orders, all of which were made public in a misguided effort to harm me and others in a revenge scheme."
Estrada, who faces a sentence ranging from no time to a year and a day in federal prison, entered his plea in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia, who accepted it pending approval by U.S. District Judge William "Chip" Johnson.
Asked about the possible sentence, U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said, "We believe justice is done. Jamie Estrada is going to be a convicted felon."
He said the case was about privacy.
"As members of the community, we have expectations of privacy, and there are consequences for violating that privacy," the federal prosecutor said.
The U.S. attorney said an analysis of the federal sentencing guidelines and Estrada's lack of criminal history were done before prosecutors agreed to the sentencing portion of Estrada's plea agreement.
He would not comment on whether an investigation into other aspects of the stolen emails is ongoing or whether there are other targets.
Estrada was charged with hijacking the campaign email domain name Susana2010.com and redirecting it to another account he controlled. He was able to obtain the emails in the summer of 2011 by using passwords and other information he obtained while working on Martinez's campaign for governor in 2009.
According to the plea agreement, the intercepted emails were given to the governor's political opponents.
They, in turn, used them to attack her.
After selected emails began to dribble out in May 2012, Martinez asked for a federal investigation and said she had never seen the emails sent to her campaign account by supporters and other emails sent in response to personal purchases she had made online. She and those in her inner circle believed the account to be inactive.
Subsequent emails released after they were obtained by Estrada dealt with topics ranging from the racino lease at the Downs of Albuquerque to a personnel case involving a fired Corrections Department worker represented by now-state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman, who attached it to a court document.
Estrada attempted to raise a whistleblower defense in the case, but federal prosecutors successfully fought his attempts to make the case about politics.
Estrada served as Martinez campaign manager from July to December 2009. Martinez said she fired him, but attorney Ives told the Journal in an interview last year that Estrada left the campaign on good terms.
Once considered a rising Republican star, Estrada sought the GOP nomination for the Public Regulation Commission District 5 seat in southern New Mexico after leaving the Martinez campaign.
He lost his primary bid, while Martinez won the Republican nomination in her race and went on to become the nation's first female Hispanic governor.
Estrada had been scheduled to go on trial July 10.
In his plea agreement, Estrada specifically acknowledged intercepting a dozen emails, including one dated Jan. 4, 2012, titled "Confidential RGA (Republican Governors Association) Update" and intended for Gov. Martinez.
Prosecutors noted that email was clearly marked confidential, making it clear that Estrada had no right to intercept it.
Estrada also admitted making false statements to FBI agents on Sept. 19, 2012, when they executed a search warrant at his residence. Specifically, Estrada told FBI agents he had not paid for the renewal of the Web domain using a prepaid gift card.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Federici said in court that the remaining 14 counts of the indictment would be dismissed.
Original headline: Guilty plea entered in stolen email case
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