New Mexico Studies Imus Ranch
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) _ The New Mexico attorney general’s office is looking into whether state law was violated in the bulldozing of two historic ranch buildings for a charity for Don Imus and his brother.
``I wouldn’t use the word investigation yet. It’s an inquiry,″ said Kay Roybal, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Tom Udall.
At issue is whether state Public Safety Secretary Darren White and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn violated laws against wrecking cultural property and the use of public money for private benefit.
``I think it smells of election-year politics,″ White said Friday.
Under orders from White and Rahn, a state Highway and Transportation Department crew on July 1 razed an old adobe ranch house, two barns and corrals on state land near Ribera, some 40 miles southeast of Santa Fe.
The land was intended for lease to syndicated talk show host Don Imus and his brother Fred, who lives in Santa Fe.
Don Imus said Sunday he was not looking for any favors when asking state officials to do something about the buildings.
``We called Darren and asked him to clean that mess up,″ Imus said in New York. ``That’s what we thought we were supposed to do. No one was looking for a favor.″
He said he is willing to write the state a check if that will settle the controversy.
People who lease land from the state Land Office must pay for changes on the land and must obtain permission for such actions as wrecking buildings.
That never happened.
``They might have been able to destroy these buildings if they’d done it the right way, and no one would be saying a word,″ said Ed Moreno, an assistant state land commissioner.
``If he (White) thinks this is election-year politics, that’s absolutely untrue. This is kind of common sense, knowing what the law is before you take action on something,″ Moreno said.
The buildings were destroyed without mandatory studies to determine their historical or cultural value.
Archaeologists, who recovered artifacts from the ranch complex in the Las Vegas, N.M., landfill, believe the complex dated to the 1880s or earlier.
It shows up in state records as the ``Old Station″ and may have been used in the 1920s as a tourist stop near the Santa Fe Trail for people crossing the Southwest in touring cars.
``It certainly meets the definition of a cultural property, and that’s all it needs to be protected under law,″ said Lynne Sebastian, state historic preservation officer.
``It sounds very likely to have qualified for listing on the state register (of historic places) at the very least,″ she said.
Injury or destruction of a cultural property is a state felony. So is a public official’s use of state assets for private gain.
Last spring, the Imus brothers were closing their purchase of land for their ranch and seeking a lease of related grazing land from the Land Office.
Gov. Gary Johnson has pledged his administration’s support for the Imus ranch.
White said that in late April, Fred Imus called him to have dilapidated ranch buildings on the state land destroyed because they would pose a safety risk to children at the ranch.
White called the Land Office to see about using Highway and Transportation Department workers to demolish the buildings.
``They told me nothing could be done until the lease was transferred over, and nothing more was said,″ White said.
``They said the lease would be transferred in about six weeks. I passed that information on to Pete Rahn, and he said, `No problem,‴ White said.
The Imus brothers still have not received the transfer of the lease where the buildings were destroyed.
White said no one warned him of the need for archaeological studies.
And because the buildings were on state land, White and Rahn said they assumed there would be no violations of state law.
``I wasn’t circumventing the processes of the Land Office,″ White said. ``Why would I fax them a map of the buildings and tell them what we wanted to do? This was no cloak-and-dagger mission.″
Rahn said one of his department’s engineers checked out the buildings and deemed them dangerous.
``It was never described as being old to the point of being historic,″ Rahn said. ``There was nothing to trigger that concern. From what I heard, they were just dilapidated buildings.
``The motivation for all this was the idea we were trying to help kids with cancer. If I would have thought I was being asked to do something that was not right, I would have said no.″