State audit hits LANL coalition and candidate Romero over reimbursements

Andrea Romero, a candidate for House District 46, takes part in a Democratic primary candidate forum in May. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — An agency of New Mexico municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory approved improper reimbursement for alcohol, food, travel and baseball tickets, the New Mexico state auditor announced Tuesday.

The released audit especially hits Andrea Romero, former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director, over unlawful reimbursements and found a lack of adequate documentation to support many expenditures “in violation of the published travel policy and state law.”

The scathing audit comes as Romero is seeking to win a seat in New Mexico’s House of Representatives after defeating Rep. Carl Trujillo in the Democratic primary in June. Trujillo was and is facing allegations of sexual harassment.

In the November general election, Romero faces write-in candidate Heather Nordquist, who supported Trujillo in the primary.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson released the final report of a special audit after allegations surfaced of misspent public money by the government coalition also known as RCLC. He said the governing board of the group has conceded to yearly audits overseen by the Office of the State Auditor following his report.

“The RCLC is just one example of a state agency that has been ignored over the years by the state auditor’s office,” Johnson said.

Among the travel policy and state law violations, the audit found that Romero was improperly reimbursed $286.78 for a meal at the Bull Ring Restaurant in Santa Fe that included ten alcoholic beverages and $10.81 for a mirror at Ross Dress for Less.

The report also said the spending was “potential non-compliance with the Department of Energy Grant Award with regard to explicitly prohibited lobbying” and could result in the agency, with an annual budget of about $200,000 from local and federal government sources, having to pay back around $372,000.

The audit says more than $50,000 in improper payments were made to Romero, members of the coalition’s board and third-parties since 2014. More than half the total amount of those payments, $26,862, went to Andrea Romero Consulting. Many reimbursements did not have prior approval of the RCLC board, the audit states.

A separate audit found Romero as executive director spent $1,850 on a dinner in Washington, D.C. attended by elected officials who were RCLC board members, $307 for a dozen Major League Baseball tickets and at other events where alcohol was paid for. The coalition’s travel policies prohibit alcohol as an allowable expense, but the audit says Romero was reimbursed $1,850 by Los Alamos County for an invoice that included alcohol.

Romero has said questions around her spending were politically motivated. A group tied to Trujillo, whom Romero defeated in June, filed an open records request on the agency’s spending. She said the group had never shown any interest in the coalition or its business until she announced her candidacy.

Among the expenses listed in the audit is $70 for a meal at La Fonda for three or four people, including Journal North editor Mark Oswald. Oswald had lunch at the hotel with a Regional Coalition director who preceded Romero’s tenure and one or two other people.

Former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who chaired the coalition board, and City Councilor Peter Ives are named in the audit. It says the RCLC board approved reimbursements for a $37.48 at Finn & Porter, an upscale surf ‘n’ turf restaurant, and $41.11 for room service at the Hilton Alexandria Hotel. Gonzales was also reimbursed for a $64.72 expense at Finn & Porter.

Gonzales and Harris Walker of NNSA were listed as guests at the Bull ring restaurant in Santa Fe, where their bill came to $286.78.

The audit says that reimbursements requested for mileage were duplicated by two coalition executive directors, including Romero, and their staff. The individuals collected mileage for travel to and from the same location on the same day to attend the same meeting. The audit identified 28 instances of duplicate mileage reimbursements totaling $1,115.76.

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