MORIARTY — Torrance County Manager Joy Ansley is facing 10 felony charges alleging fraud, falsifying public documents and conspiracy and has been ordered to appear before a judge in Estancia next Thursday.
The charges were filed last week by Donald Jochem, a special agent in the state Attorney General’s Office. Similar and related charges were lodged against Ansley’s friend, Chris Valdez, a general contractor based in Estancia. The two allegedly ripped off the county to the tune of some $500,000 over a period of years.
The charges come after two year-long investigations by Attorney General Gary King and State Auditor Hector Balderas.
Ansley was absent from the county government offices in Estancia last week while rumors that she had resigned swirled around the seat of government. Two of the three commissioners, LeRoy Candelaria and Lonnie Freyburger, denied that she had quit and said she would be back at work Monday, which she was. Freyburger said Ansley was simply “taking some personal time off.”
Ansley did not return calls this week or last, but her attorneys late last week issued a statement on her behalf saying that Ansley had offered to resign, but that “County Commissioners took no action on Ms. Ansley’s offer to resign and agreed that they wanted the benefit of her services until the allegations were proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On Tuesday, when asked if the commission supported Ansley, Commissioner Leanne Tapia reiterated last week’s release.
“The fact that she’s still here shows that we are supporting her,” Tapia said. “We believe in the idea, ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ That’s what this country is based on.”
The question of possible wrongdoing first surfaced in January 2012 when Melody Everett, a former candidate for Torrance County magistrate, accused Ansley of being involved in a personal relationship with Valdez, who continued to win county business.
Everett alleged that calls for bids were not advertised as they should have been, and that Valdez’s friends and family were often the competing bidders.
Based on documents she had obtained, Everett said, Valdez had received three-quarters of a million dollars over five years — much of it due to “change orders,” money awarded after contracts are signed to cover unexpected costs.
At the time, Ansley said Everett’s allegations were completely off-base and categorically denied any malfeasance. She described Valdez merely as a friend, noting that many of his dealings with the county began before she became county manager.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said last January. “I haven’t done anything criminal; I haven’t done anything illegal. … It’s frustrating because I feel like I work nonstop for this county, and it’s really hard when, every time I turn around, I feel like I’m getting my knees cut out from under me.”
Before becoming Torrance County manager, Ansley served as an analyst for the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, a fact cited by Jochem in the complaint against her.
“Because of (her) employment background and experience, she is fully knowledgeable of the principles of government procurement and knowledgeable of the provisions of the New Mexico Procurement Code,” he wrote in court documents.
The manager — the highest non-elected position in county government — is appointed by the commission to implement its decisions and operates directly under the three members. As such, Ansley is responsible for providing research, information and recommendations and serving as the county’s chief executive officer.
She was hired on July 30, 2007. Her duties include monitoring and administering the county budget. This includes an individual departmental review of proposed and ongoing expenditures.
The formal complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office on March 28 essentially backs up the allegations voiced by Everett more than a year ago, and states that the conspiracy to commit fraud may actually have begun as early as July 7, 2007 — three weeks before Ansley officially signed on as county manager. Four of the 10 counts each allege fraud of more than $20,000; one count alleges conspiracy to commit fraud, or, in the alternative, making or permitting false public voucher; the rest accuse Ansley of making or permitting false public vouchers.
In essence, they claim that Ansley, now 39, illegally fed highly inflated “change orders” on county contracts to Valdez’s contracting business, CCS Construction. The contracts involved work on the Torreon Fire Station, an adjacent playground, the Duran fire substation, and the county’s voting machine storage building.
On Tuesday, the commissioners issued a joint statement voicing their support for Ansley based on her “honesty and integrity.” The statement concludes by asserting that “the checks and balances of the County are such that none of the criminal acts that have been filed could have occurred. Each payment made on construction contracts is reviewed by the Department Head involved; the County Manager; the County Comptroller; and approved by the Board of Commissioners. If there has been any oversight on any payment, such oversight was not intentional, and is the responsibility of the Board of Commissioners and other County employees, as well as the County Manager.”
Valdez faces the same 10 felonies as Ansley. If convicted on all counts, they could be sentenced to a maximum of 46 1/2 years in prison.