Former Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty in New Mexico to Computer Instrusion and False Statement Charges
WASHINGTON—Jamie Estrada, 41, of Los Lunas, New Mexico, pleaded guilty this afternoon to the unlawful interception of electronic communications and false statement charges arising out of the unlawful interception of wire communications intended for others, including New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and members of her staff.
In announcing Estrada’s guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said, “Each and every one of us has a right and an expectation of privacy in our electronic communications, including our e-mails, and those who violate the law by diverting, stealing, or otherwise misappropriating our private communications should face serious consequences. At a time when so much of our personal, professional, and financial information is repeatedly transmitted on a daily basis by e-mail and other wireless devices, the Department of Justice is committed to protecting Americans from those who seek to violate their privacy.”
“The right to privacy has been a cornerstone of our democracy since its founding and remains true today in our high-tech world. All Americans, regardless of the jobs or the positions they hold, deserve to have their e-mails and other computer transactions protected from criminals who would steal and exploit confidential information for unlawful purposes,” said Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI. “I thank the FBI special agents and professional staff who worked on this case, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their successful prosecution. While much has changed since our nation was established, one thing has not: Americans rely on their government to protect their rights, and that’s a duty the FBI takes very seriously.”
Estrada was charged in a 14-count indictment filed in May 2013. The first 12 counts of the indictment alleged that, between July 2011 and June 2012, Estrada unlawfully intercepted wire communication intended for individuals who had e-mail accounts on an Internet domain owned by the governor’s political organization. The final two counts charged Estrada with making false statements to the FBI in September 2012, in which he denied taking certain actions to unlawfully intercept wire communications as charged in first 12 counts of the indictment. The indictment subsequently was superseded in October 2013 and May 2014 to add two more false statement charges.
According to court filings, in summer 2009, Governor Martinez, who was then the District Attorney in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, began assembling a political campaign as she prepared to enter the November 2010 gubernatorial race. In July 2009, a political supporter of the Governor registered an Internet domain designated as susana2010.com (the domain) for a two-year period through an online service. The supporter donated the domain, including its username and password, to the governor’s political organization. The username and password were required for making administrative changes to the domain, including posting content to the domain’s website and creating e-mail accounts associated with the domain. They also were required to renew the registration for the domain, which was scheduled to expire on July 18, 2011. As the owner of the domain, the governor’s political organization had the exclusive right to renew the registration before it expired and during a 42-day grace period following the expiration date.
During the gubernatorial campaign, the domain became an important tool for the governor’s political organization. Members of the campaign staff, including the governor, maintained e-mail accounts on the domain that they used to communicate with each other, the governor’s political supporters, and the media. Estrada, who joined the governor’s political organization as the campaign manager in July 2009, was provided with the username and password for the domain. When Estrada left the campaign in December 2009, the governor requested that he cooperate in efforts to remove his access to and privileges regarding the campaign’s accounts.
After Governor Martinez was inaugurated in January 2011, the governor, members of her staff, and others continued to use the e-mail accounts associated with the domain. In July 2011, individuals who had e-mail accounts on the domain began receiving reports that e-mails sent to those accounts were bouncing back to the senders and soon determined that the e-mails were not getting delivered because the domain had expired. Their efforts to re-register the domain were unsuccessful because they could not locate or recall the domain’s username and password. In July 2011 and as part of their efforts to locate the username and password, the governor’s staff asked Estrada to provide this information and he did not respond.
During today’s hearing, Estrada entered guilty pleas to counts six and 16 of the second superseding indictment, charging him with unlawful interception of electronic communications and false statements, respectively. In his plea agreement, Estrada admitted that on July 29, 2011, he logged onto the domain and altered the customer profile using a fictitious name with a Colorado address. Estrada also admitted renewing the domain under the fictitious name and paid for the renewal with a pre-paid gift card so that the renewal could not be traced back to him.
According to the plea agreement, Estrada changed the settings for the domain to direct all incoming e-mail to an e-mail account he controlled so that the e-mails were routed to him instead of the intended recipients. From July 2011 through June 2012, Estrada intercepted hundreds of e-mail messages intended for recipients at the domain, including the governor. The intercepted e-mails included personal e-mails, internal political communications, and e-mails from ordinary citizens to the governor or her staff. In his plea agreement, Estrada admitted sharing the e-mails he unlawfully intercepted with the governor’s political opponents to disseminate the e-mails to news media and other outlets.
Estrada admitted unlawfully intercepting an e-mail dated January 4, 2012, which was entitled “Confidential RGA [Republican Governors’ Association] Update” and was intended for the governor, as charged in count six of the second superseding indictment. In his plea agreement, he also acknowledged unlawfully intercepting the 11 other e-mails described in counts one through five and seven through 12 of the indictment.
Estrada also admitted making false statements to FBI agents on September 19, 2012, when they executed a search warrant at his residence. Specifically, Estrada told the FBI agents that he had not paid for the renewal of the Domain using a pre-paid gift card as charged in count 16 of the second superseding indictment. In his plea agreement, he also acknowledged making the false statements charged in counts 13, 14, and 15 of the indictment.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Estrada faces a sentence of zero to a year and a day in federal prison. The remaining components of Estrada’s sentence, including the length and conditions of his supervised release and any fine or restitution, will be determined by the court.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Fred J. Federici and Jeremy Pena.