Bill Richardson Looks Bad in Sentencing Document for Hassan Nemazee

It's hard to interpret the documents the Justice Department files about ongoing criminal probes, but the sentencing memo that Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recently submitted about legendary Democratic fundraiser Hassan Nemazee appears to be bad news for New Mexico Governor and ex-presidential candidate Bill Richardson.

The memo says that Nemazee met in April with the FBI, as well as state and federal prosecutors from New Mexico, "in connection with an investigation being conducted by them" about whether "fraud or other criminal activity influenced or corrupted investments made by the State of New Mexico during the years 2004 through 2009."

Richardson, who was governor throughout this period, took a $5,000 contribution from Nemazee and $20,000 from his partner in 2006, adding another $11,500 from Nemazee, his relatives, and partners in 2008, when Nemazee hosted a fundraiser for Richardson at his Manhattan apartment. New Mexico's State Investment Council, chaired by Richardson, awarded Nemazee's company, Carret Asset Management, $200 million in state funds to manage in 2007, which threw off nearly $2 million in fees to the company. Richardson has denied that he had anything to do with the council decision, though an official he appointed to run the fund has already resigned in connection with the scandals engulfing it.

The memo says that Nemazee, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison last week on unrelated bank fraud charges, "had an ownership interest" in Carret "and was the person who had the most contact at the initiation of the relationship" between Carret and New Mexico's state entities. Nemazee provided prosecutors with "the names of the people with whom he talked, as well as the nature of those conversations." He also explained "the procedure by which Carret acquired the contract to manage New Mexico funds." The government said Nemazee's "insight into how the business relationship was formed and furthered," as well as his other detailed answers, were "thorough, truthful and cooperative."

Nemazee's information was "useful in that it corroborated other witness statements" and "provides some additional avenues of investigation related to the investments of which he is personally aware." Nonetheless, the government concluded that it's "unlikely" Nemazee "will be asked to provide testimony or additional assistance at this stage of the investigation," possibly because his conviction might make him a worthless witness. "This, of course," concludes the memo, "may change depending on future developments in the investigation."

It's difficult to figure out who else in New Mexico government or politics Nemazee might have approached for the business, but it's clear from a Richardson appearance in April 2007 at the Asia Society in New York that Richardson knew the Iranian businessman. Nemazee, who was finance chair of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, introduced Richardson at the event. Richardson responded by calling Nemazee "the leading fundraiser in the country for a lot of Democrats, but one in particular, who is not me." He then added, right around the time the four-year New Mexico contract was awarded to Nemazee's firm: "But you know I'm making inroads with him."

The memo also reports that in early 2009, when Richardson had to abruptly withdraw from consideration as the next Commerce secretary due to a different pay-to-play allegation against him, Nemazee immediately "mobilized his extensive and well-placed contacts with an eye" towards gaining the nomination himself. "Over the course of the following days and weeks and in order to advance his prospects," says the government, "he contacted people of great influence to advance his prospects of obtaining this Cabinet-level position. All of this occurred while he was very much in the midst of committing a $292 million bank fraud."

Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office, declined to say who these people of great influence were, though Nemazee was so close to Bill and Hillary Clinton that the Clinton administration had once nominated him to be the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, only to have to withdraw the nomination "because of questions raised about his business practices," according to the memo. Shortly before the Argentina nomination, Nemazee raised $60,000 for Bill Clinton's legal defense fund. Not only did Nemazee run Hillary Clinton's fundraising apparatus, Carret carried her campaign chair, Terry McAuliffe, on its payroll and gave him a Washington office for a while.

Scribner also declined to answer any questions about Richardson and the ongoing investigation. Emails and calls to Richardson's office in New Mexico went unreturned, even though we sent them the relevant pages of the sentencing memo.

Research assistance: Gavin Aronsen, Michael Cohen, Nicole Maffeo, Adam Schwartzman, Jenny Tai

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