ALBUQUERQUE — While prominent Farmington businessman Norman Geoff McMahon prepared to have his fate decided by a jury as his trial began Monday, his former business partner pleaded guilty to bribing a federal officer.

Curtis Slade pleaded guilty to one count of bribing Ralph Mason, a former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) geologist.

According to federal court documents filed on Oct. 20, Slade admitted to giving Mason $4,000 between Jan 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2002. In exchange, the officer aided Slade in acquiring permits to mine sand and gravel on BLM land in the Crouch Mesa area.

Slade has yet to be sentenced. However, he faces up to two years in federal prison, a fine up to $250,000, one year on supervised probation and a $100 mandatory fine. By accepting a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop an additional bribing charge.

Slade also agreed to testify as a witness during McMahon's trial, which began Monday with jury selection in Albuquerque. McMahon is accused of giving Mason $7,000 in four payments to mine humate, an organic material used in soil conditioners, supplements and fertilizers.

He unsuccessfully petitioned a federal judge to throw out two of four bribery charges, court documents state. McMahon's trial is expected to continue in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe.

As a BLM geologist, Mason awarded and oversaw the lease and mining permitting process in San Juan County. NewCo Aggregate, a company in which Slade was a partner, received a permit Dec. 27, 1999 to mine on Crouch Mesa.

Slade secured a second permit to mine in the area on April 2, 2002, court documents state.

"From January 2002 through October 2002, I gave Ralph Mason approximately $4,000 to $5,000," Slade states in court documents. "Ralph Mason would stop by the Crouch Mesa gravel pit during the course of the business day and I would give him between $100 and $300 in cash per week."

The payments were made as a loan to Mason, court documents state, but Slade "told Mason not to worry about paying back the loan."

"This happened around the time that I began the effort to obtain the Crouch Mesa sand and gravel pit and permit from the BLM in my own name, instead of the NewCo partnership," Slade states in court documents.

McMahon developed most of the housing on Crouch Mesa, located east of Farmington, through the Morningstar Subdivision. He is also the founder of Morningstar Water Users Association.

Nathan Gonzalez: ngonzalez@daily-times.com