ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association President Filberto “Joey” Sigala has been charged with one count of misdemeanor fraud for allegedly paying himself $400 for union work he didn’t perform in 2011, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
State Police Sgt. Jeffrey Smith filed the charging documents against Sigala on Aug. 2. The documents also said there are few internal controls and Sigala could spend union dues with little oversight.
Sigala declined comment through an attorney on Tuesday.
That attorney, John D’Amato, has represented Sigala in past matters but won’t do so in this case because of a conflict with the union.
Sigala, D’Amato said, “insists that he never received any money for work that he didn’t perform.”
State Police agents in December turned the case over to District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, without a stated recommendation for charges. But because Brandenburg’s office had worked closely with Sigala during his high-profile stint as APOA president from 2009 through 2012, she sent the case to another prosecutor to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
The investigation began when former APD sergeant Paul Heh, who is now running for mayor, sent a letter to then-Police Chief Ray Schultz last year. The letter, which accused Sigala of embezzling union funds, followed accusations that the union was missing – or Sigala had misspent – as much as $250,000.
The possible fraud, according to 47 pages of State Police investigative documents obtained by the Journal , centers on a Dec. 2, 2011, incident in which an APD officer was arrested on suspicion of DWI. Sigala wrote himself a $400 check, which also was signed by APOA Treasurer Matt Fischer and dated the same day. The check noted in the memo line: “Call out.”
APOA employees told investigators the check was apparently for Sigala’s representation of the arrested officer, according to the police reports. Union representatives receive $25 an hour for such work.
But the officer who had been arrested told investigators he hadn’t requested union representation, and APD records don’t indicate that Sigala was sent to the scene.
Sigala told State Police investigators the $400 check might also have included other union work from the same week in December 2011.
According to Smith’s Aug. 2 report, however, Sigala could not describe any such work, and his cell phone records showed he was only on the phone after hours for three hours during the week preceding the officer’s arrest.
D’Amato said Sigala “was always truthful with the detective.”
“It is my understanding from speaking with Mr. Sigala that the $400 was for a combined three or four assignments from the union,” he said.
In May 2012, Sigala was arrested on felony charges alleging he beat his wife and stole her money and financial assistance card. Schultz fired him shortly afterward. The charges were later reduced to misdemeanors and, in December, they were dismissed outright. Sigala is now fighting to get his police job back.
He was earning more than $57,000 a year in city salary to work as the union president. He also was paying himself more than $30,000 a year in salary funded by union dues.
Citing a private audit commissioned by the union, the State Police reports paint a picture of an organization with a “severe lack of internal controls” over the way officials spent money. Many of those problems have since been addressed through new bylaws, according to the report and current union officials.
But during his time as president, Sigala could essentially spend union dues however he wished, the reports state, provided the expenses didn’t exceed $500 each.
Smith’s charging document against Sigala said that his lengthy investigation “into the workings of the APOA at the time of the taking of the ($400) revealed that there were few checks and controls on the use of APOA funds by (Sigala) and others.”
“The countersignature required was ineffective because (Sigala’s) use of APOA funds was never questioned by the treasurer who relied on (Sigala’s) representation concerning the legitimacy of the draws,” Smith’s report says.