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AG’s Office raids home of Las Vegas, NM, mayor

SANTA FE – The state Attorney General’s Office on Thursday raided the home of Las Vegas, N.M., Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron, the Las Vegas City Hall and the home of a contractor identified as the mayor’s former campaign manager and “paramour.”

Documents say the investigation is over “potential collusion” and kickbacks between the mayor and boyfriend Marvin Salazar over city contracts.

A search warrant affidavit by investigators from the AG’s Office delves into city work by Salazar’s company, Gemini Construction, on floor installation, water damage, installation of a Little League scoreboard and flagstone for a park.

Tonita Gurule-Giron

One witness, a “former close friend” of Gurule-Giron, alleges that the mayor told her that Gurule-Giron “would receive payments from Salazar in the form of money for assisting Salazar with receiving City contracts,” according to the court affidavit.

The search warrant affidavit outlined certain items and documents to be seized from her property, including financial and business records, documents relating to transactions with Gemini Construction, items that may demonstrate a relationship or collusion between Salazar and Gurule-Giron and all computer-related materials.

The investigation began in May 2018. Based on interviews with former and current city employees and the mayor’s former friend, special agent Lindsay McIntosh wrote it is both “reasonable and probable” that there was collusion between Gurule-Giron and Salazar and that she had incentive for Gemini to receive the city contracts.

“I will always hold elected officials accountable, and make sure that public dollars being used to serve the public interest,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement Thursday.

Messages for Gurule-Giron and Salazar were not returned Thursday afternoon. But in an interview for a special audit by the State Auditor’s Office last year, Gurule-Giron said she and Salazar did not have a romantic relationship nor did she play any role in him receiving government contracts.

The search warrant affidavit states that in 2016, Gemini received a contract for hardwood floor installation at City Hall despite not being low bidder. The lowest-bidding company was erroneously disqualified, the affidavit states.

The document also says the cost of the job more than doubled from about $9,000 to $19,000 after Salazar got the contract. Martin Gonzales, then the Las Vegas public works manager, told investigators that Gurule-Giron initially told him to give Gemini the job, but he told mayor there had to be competitive bidding process.

Gemini was contracted again in 2017 for a $10,000 “emergency” project to replace damaged City Hall floors following a water leak. The project ended up costing nearly $100,000. Employees told investigators replacements were made in rooms that hadn’t been damaged.

Payments to Gemini are also said to have multiplied, from roughly $700 to more than $3,000, after it was hired by the city to install a Little League scoreboard. City workers also said the mayor vetoed a donation of flagstone for a park so the city could purchase the material from Salazar.

“This collective set of circumstances is indicative of a pattern of conduct whereby (Gurule-Giron) interjected herself or committed official acts on multiple occasions, using her position of power and authority, in order to manipulate (or bypass) the procurement process in order for Marvin Salazar, her paramour, to profit, or to save Salazar from having to pay fees that would otherwise be due of any other citizen,” the affidavit states.

According to the AG’s Office’s interview with Gurule-Giron’s former friend Roberta Romero, the mayor told her tha Salazar had been “unfairly denied” city contracts before her tenure because the previous mayor disliked him.

“Romero said she became upset, and told the Mayor that Salazar should have never been awarded the (hardwood flooring) job because he was her boyfriend,” the affidavit reads. “She said the Mayor responded, ‘well nobody really knows.’ Romero said she replied ‘well I know,’ and that the Mayor responded ‘well yeah, but that doesn’t make a difference. You’re the only one.’

In March, the AG’s Office acknowledged in a statement that it was investigating Gurule-Giron, with a statement that there were “allegations of fraud and misconduct while in office.”

“For the AG’s Office to make that statement is pretty heavy, because we’ve done nothing wrong,” Gurule-Giron said then. “Nothing. I know I haven’t.”

Gurule-Giron also said in March she was aware of complaints made to the attorney general by Councilor Barbara Casey. Casey told the Journal she filed a complaint about the mayor in 2017, including about a contract for City Hall improvements and other financial issues that were mentioned in the special audit of Las Vegas city government by the State Auditor’s Office last year.

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