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Card misuse by governor’s chief of staff not reported

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The use by Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff of his government-issued credit card to make thousands of dollars in personal purchases hasn’t been reported to the state Financial Control Division and the credit card company.

The State Procurement Card Policy and Procedures prohibit the use of a so-called P-card for anything other than government business and says “misuse includes any use that deviates from the Procurement Code, these Policies and Procedures, and/or Agency Policies and Procedures.”

The policy and procedures go on to say that “if the Card is misused, the Agency shall document the misuse and including but not limited to:”

• Seek restitution from the cardholder, plus interest.

• Follow disciplinary procedures up to and including termination.

• Inform the Financial Control Division and the credit card company in writing within 24 hours.

• Remove the card from the cardholders’ possession.

Chief of Staff Keith Gardner has reimbursed the state nearly $5,000 since August 2012 for more than 40 card purchases – from heartburn medicine to iPhone accessories, from lodging to tires – at Wal-Mart, Best Buy and more.

After a Journal inquiry about his personal purchases and reimbursements, Gardner paid $241 in interest.

The Governor’s Office previously said he wasn’t disciplined and kept the credit card. The administration disclosed last week that the office also hasn’t provided written notification of his use of the card for personal purchases to the Financial Control Division or the credit card company, Bank of America.

Asked about the lack of notifications, Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said the section of the policy and procedures requiring the notifications implies the presence of fraud or ill intent in card use – “which clearly doesn’t exist in this situation.”

Gardner has said his use of the government credit card to make personal purchases didn’t comply with policy and procedures and was “poor practice and sloppy,” but that the reimbursements were evidence he had no intent to enrich himself at taxpayer expense. He typically made reimbursements for purchases between one and three months after the transactions.

Knell said Gardner met regularly with the chief financial officer for the Governor’s Office to reconcile card purchases and that the CFO is an employee of the Department of Finance and Administration and is housed within DFA’s Financial Control Division.

Future credit card charges by Gardner, who is paid $136,350 a year, must be approved in advance. Gardner, a former member of the state House of Representatives and previous manager of a physical rehabilitation clinic in Roswell, has said he came from the private sector, where rules for employee use of company credit cards can be less restrictive than those of government.

Gardner said he used the government credit card for some personal purchases because he didn’t have a personal credit card available.

Most of the reimbursed purchases were made in the past year, and individual reimbursed charges ranged from less than $1 to more than $1,000.

In January 2011, when the Martinez administration took office, Gardner signed a cardholder agreement saying he had been trained in and understood the policy and procedures for use of the credit card, including the ban on personal purchases.

State credit cards are used throughout government by more than 100 employees who travel frequently, office administrators, executive assistants and others to make purchases of goods and services.

Gardner is among those who travel often on government business, and he has used his credit card to pay travel expenses for others in the Governor’s Office and to purchase office furniture, equipment and supplies.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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