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Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Martinez, State Spar Over Office Supply Deal
By Colleen Heild
Journal Investigative Reporter
State finance officials say they ordered the office of District Attorney Susana Martinez to stop buying supplies from a company owned by a top deputy, but Martinez says she believes any such directive was rescinded because the state continued to pay the vendor's invoices.
A Department of Finance and Administration spokeswoman told the Journal last week that the DFA notified Martinez's Las Cruces office in early 2004 that buying from Titan Office Supply would no longer be permitted after learning the vendor was a DA employee.
The DFA said it hasn't been able to locate records documenting the order directly, but did produce a 2004 memo from Martinez's chief financial officer confirming the DA's office would no longer be permitted to use Titan.
Martinez, a Republican running for governor, told the Journal on Monday that she never knew about a DFA directive but if there was one she believes it was reversed because the state continued to approve payments for another nine months.
"This election-year revisionism by the very Richardson/Denish agency that approved each payment smacks of a political smear," her campaign said in an e-mail.
The campaign added: "It is clear that there were subsequent conversations," between the DA's office and the DFA permitting the purchases.
Asked whether she had records to show that the directive was rescinded, Martinez told the Journal she didn't but added: "What's important here ... I can't tell you how many decisions they make that are not in writing."
To see previous Journal stories on the New Mexico governor's race, click here.
She said she wasn't involved in any conversations on the issue.
Martinez's office didn't put the purchases from Titan out for competitive bid, nor did it have a contract with the firm. She said neither was required by law. From 2003 to late 2004, the office spent more than $60,000 with Titan, which was based in Las Cruces.
Titan was owned by Janetta Hicks, who was a deputy district attorney in Martinez's office until several years ago. Hicks, also a Republican, is now a district attorney based in Roswell.
Martinez said she fully complied with the law, that independent annual audits of her agency prove as much, and that she saved taxpayers money by buying from her employee's home-based business.
The purchases included office supplies, computer accessories and law enforcement equipment.
At the time, there was no state law prohibiting such employer-employee purchases.
But once a DA employee alerted the DFA that Hicks worked for the agency, DFA officials intervened, said spokeswoman Nicole Gillespie. She didn't name the employee.
"The Financial Control Division (of the DFA) reviewed the payments made ... to the employee-owned company and informed the agency that DFA did not see a public benefit in the 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office making such substantial purchases from an employee," Gillespie said in an e-mail to the Journal.
DFA said it would allow payment of goods purchased and delivered before March 12, 2004, Gillespie said.
That is addressed in the memo from Martinez's chief financial officer, Beverlye Zubia, to the DFA dated March 23, 2004.
"Once the remaining outstanding invoices are paid, our agency will not be permitted to submit for payment any further invoices from (Titan)," the memo said.
Records obtained by the Journal show that more than $6,400 in additional purchases were submitted by the DA's Office and approved for payment by the state after the cutoff date.
Agencies such as Martinez's office send invoices to the DFA, which approves them and writes the checks.
Gillespie said her agency hasn't found any other documents related to the issue, but said the Zubia memo was retained "as the official public record."
Martinez said that she had never seen the Zubia letter to the DFA and that it is not in her agency's files.
Documents show Martinez's office continued to submit payment vouchers for Titan payments until about December 2004. Martinez said Monday that the state wouldn't have approved those additional purchases if they were improper.
Gillespie said her agency has located no documents showing the earlier prohibition was rescinded.
Asked why the DFA continued to pay the invoices, Gillespie said the agency had assigned a new pre-auditor to the DA's Office in July 2004 "who was unaware of the previous communication ... pertaining to Janetta Hicks/Titan Office Supply."
Zubia retired from the DA's Office in June 2004 and couldn't be reached for comment. Her successor, Juliete Lucero, told the Journal she never knew about any prohibition.
Martinez told the Journal on Aug. 5 that her office stopped buying supplies from Titan in the fall of 2004 because the state began offering agencies a more convenient way to purchase goods with a state-issued procurement card. Titan went out of business shortly thereafter.
Some government agencies, including Metro Court in Albuquerque and the Court of Appeals, had been using the cards for several years by that time. But Martinez said the card wasn't available to her agency until September 2004.
She also told the Journal earlier this month that the DFA was aware of the employee-employer relationship and had approved it. Asked on Monday about that statement, Martinez said her office didn't make any special notification to the DFA about Hicks.
How would the DFA know? "I guess because they do payroll, too," Martinez said. "I don't know."
She said her office at the time considered it was making full public disclosure by filing a financial disclosure statement about the employer-employee relationship with the Secretary of State's Office.