ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A new television ad in New Mexico’s race for governor surrounds one of the state’s most notorious criminals. Michael Soutar, better known as the Casanova Conman, was sentenced in 2007 to 34 years in prison for wooing women and investors, then taking their money.
The just-released ad by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is seeking a second term, accuses Democratic challenger Attorney General Gary King, whose office prosecuted the case, of cutting Soutar a deal that let him walk decades early.
“Casanova Con got out after serving only five years — only five years of a 34-year sentence. Gary King himself cut the deal, meeting in private with Casanova Con’s lawyers,” the ad reads.
But a spokesman for King called the ad a lie. The Attorney General’s Office also called a news conference Wednesday to defend the way it handled the case.
“I’m not here to advocate on behalf of the campaign. I’m here to clarify the facts of how this case was actually handled,” said Dave Pederson, General Counsel for the Attorney General’s Office.
In 2012, Soutar asked then Santa Fe District Court Judge Michael Vigil to reconsider his sentence. Soutar had just reached a settlement in a civil legal malpractice lawsuit against his attorneys, which freed up restitution money. Vigil agreed to release Soutar 27 years early in exchange for paying his victims back.
“Our main concern was to try to obtain restitution for some of the people who had been duped by Soutar. We accomplished that goal,” said King campaign spokesman Phil Sisneros.
The ad claims there was something more sinister going on. It claims Soutar hired Raymond Sanchez, who served with King in the New Mexico Legislature, to lobby for his early release. According to the ad, Sanchez’s close relationship to King swayed the attorney general to agree to the deal.
“Casanova Con knew hiring a powerful King insider was the way to go. Victims were outraged, but it was Casanova’s best con,” the ad states.
But Pederson, who was the lead attorney on the case, said it was the judge’s decision alone to cut Soutar’s sentence short.
“The court has almost unfettered discretion in what they’re going to do,” Pederson said.
Pederson said the attorney general did not negotiate any kind of agreement with Soutar but admitted there were negotiations that never came to fruition.
“The attorney general did have some minimal contact with Raymond Sanchez as did I after I took over handling the case, but Mr. Sanchez was not an attorney in the case.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to Sanchez, but he did not return calls for comment.
Pederson admits, however, prosecutors did not argue one way or another at the re-sentencing hearing because they conceded that the decision was ultimately up to Judge Vigil.
“Essentially, we said judge, ‘listen to all the presentation, all the evidence presented to you, we acknowledge under the rule, it’s under your discretion to decide one way or another,'” Pederson said.
Pederson said he has no regrets with how he handled the case.
Chris Sanchez, spokesman for the Martinez campaign reiterated what the ad states: “The bottomline is Gary King got caught red-handed cutting an insider deal with his political friend that left victims hanging and let a career con man out of prison 30 years early.”
Pederson said he wasn’t sure where Soutar is living. A Facebook account appearing to belong to Soutar lists he has since married and is living in Connecticut.
Soutar was twice featured on television series “America’s Most Wanted,” the second appearance came in 2004 after Soutar escaped from custody in Albuquerque while picking up trash with other inmates. He was caught 8 months later living on a 50-foot yacht in the Boston harbor.