City’s role in hangar project questioned

Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this story was incorrect. It has been corrected above. Also, an image of Rep. Carl Trujillo was incorrectly included in an email promoting this story. Trujillo is not involved in this story.

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

City Councilor Pat Davis has raised questions about the extent to which the city’s role in a proposed project at the airport might violate Albuquerque’s “immigrant-friendly” resolution because the company behind it is the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The offices of Eclipse Aviation at the Sunport Airport on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The company, Albuquerque-based CSI Aviation, says there is no relationship between its ICE services and the hangar it rents at the Albuquerque International Sunport or the

proposed project: a renovation of the former headquarters of Eclipse Aerospace, financed partly through $250,000 in state Local Economic Development Funding.

The project was approved by the Albuquerque Development Commission on March 29. It has not been scheduled for a vote by the council, according to city staff, although the New Mexico Economic Development Department previously told the Journal it expected the project to go before the council in May.

The company estimates the hangar renovation will create and maintain an additional 60 full-time jobs over the next decade. Those jobs include positions for pilots, maintenance personnel and administrative staff, among others, with an average annual wage of $50,000.

Davis, who is also a congressional candidate, on Feb. 28 wrote a letter expressing concerns about the proposal to the city’s chief administrative officer, Sarita Nair. At that time, the city had not yet passed its resolution banning the use of municipal resources to identify undocumented immigrants or apprehend people based on their immigration status.

“If passed, (the resolution) would explicitly prohibit the city from aiding in any part of the federal immigration enforcement or deportation process,” Davis wrote in his letter to Nair. “I believe this would prohibit the use of staff in the Economic Development Department from serving as aides to the (CSI Aviation) application or facilitating subsequent payments from city-administered funds, even if they are pass-throughs from the states.”

A CSI representative said in an email that it “wouldn’t be appropriate for CSI to comment on the procedural items raised by Davis.”

But Michele Martinez, CSI vice president for marketing, said in a statement that the company saw no conflict with the resolution, and said its New Mexico business operations “are about getting sick and injured people transported by air to receive the medical care that they need to stay alive, adding quality jobs and revenue to the local economy, and coming up with a solution to use empty and wasted hangar space at the Sunport.”

She also said CSI has been “diversifying its business operations to include work with its own aircraft” through federal contracts unrelated to ICE, including transportation of military personnel for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The city attorney and the Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Federal databases show that over the past five years, CSI has received more than $383 million in contracts with ICE’s Detention Compliance and Removals office for air charter services. A 2014 Los Angeles Times story characterized CSI as the largest private contractor for ICE Air, with more than $560 million in related contracts since 2010.

The company also offers air ambulance and executive charter services, and has many contracts with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, though none as large as its ICE awards.

Many of the company’s most lucrative ICE awards expire this summer.

Asked by the Journal whether CSI planned to continue working with ICE, Martinez said it would “continue to offer its services where opportunities for its services exist” and directed further questions about its contracts to federal agencies.

Sherman McCorkle, chairman of the city’s Development Commission, said the commission “did not seek information” about CSI’s federal contracts before approving the project.

“Our focus is on redevelopment, and whether a project is a catalyst for economic development, and not any partisan issues,” McCorkle said.

CSI previously received approval from the city in 2017 for $500,000 in LEDA funds to construct a new hangar. Since then, the project has shifted to renovation of an existing 36,995-square-foot hangar, requiring a new round of city and state review.

CSI Vice President Mark Ramthun previously told the Journal in a statement that the change “made more sense to both the city and CSI Aviation.”

The company’s CEO is Allen Weh, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and a retired Marine Corps Reserve officer.

Davis said in an email that he sponsored an amendment to the 2017 action that was passed that says, “No direct city-initiated funds distributed for the project may be used to support or facilitate immigration enforcement efforts.”

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