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Tijeras mishandled reimbursements, audit finds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Village of Tijeras paid out $64,423.65 of pension payment reimbursements to public employees, of which $47,350.94 was overpayment that will need to be returned, according to the Office of the State Auditor, which on Tuesday released the special audit of the village.

Tijeras Mayor Gloria Chavez

The six-week audit covered the period Jan. 1, 2006, through May 7, 2018, and resulted in 14 findings of violations.

Tijeras Mayor Gloria Chavez was overpaid by $6,745.91, while former acting village clerk Diane Klaus was overpaid $10,624.55. In addition, checks were issued to one village councilman and 10 other employees.

The mayor and acting clerk issued the checks in January after interpreting a previously passed resolution to mean that the village withheld more than required for the employees’ share of the Public Employees Retirement Fund, or PERA.

The OSA’s special audit also revealed that a number of former village employees actually did make overpayments on their PERA contributions totalling $71,957.99. “Those employees did not receive reimbursement checks, and now the village has an additional liability to them,” state Auditor Wayne Johnson told the Journal on Tuesday.

Not only did the village miscalculate the amount of the PERA contributions, but the disbursements were authorized by Chavez without the approval of the Village Council, and without the benefit of adequately maintained records and supporting documentation.

Neither did the overpayments reflect collection of state and federal taxes, creating a tax liability on both the village and the individuals who received the overpayments, Johnson said.

Because Chavez authorized the checks, one of which benefited her, there is a possible violation of the state’s Governmental Conduct Act, Johnson said.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson

Chavez did not return calls from the Journal on Tuesday seeking comment.

In providing the reimbursement checks that employees were not entitled to, the village “appears to have violated the state’s Anti-Donation Clause,” Johnson said.

The audit concluded that the village did not exercise adequate oversight or have adequate internal controls over financial transactions, and that there was insufficient supervision and a “failure to understand policy, laws, rules and regulations.”

In the written response to the audit findings, the village accepted responsibility for the overpayments and pledged to recoup the money by the end of the year. The employees who received overpayments will have to pay back as much as they can immediately and the rest will come via wage garnishments over time, beginning with their first paycheck in July. Collections or litigation will be pursued against any current or former employee who does not return the funds.