Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Former Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo made over $100,000 from three contracts with Española Public Schools, yet did so without the proper business licenses, the Attorney General’s Office says.
As a contract holder with the school district, he also never disclosed that he contributed to the campaigns of two school board members, which is a violation of governmental conduct laws, the AG’s Office says. It also alleges that Trujillo, 39, ran illegal school board meetings, even though he wasn’t a member.
Trujillo’s companies were never registered with the secretary of state or with Rio Arriba County. At one point, there was a commercial location, but, during the length of the contracts, Trujillo was running the business out of his Chimayó home.
The case led the Attorney General’s Office to execute search warrants on Trujillo’s home and at the EPS district office.
Trujillo faces three counts of unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of failing to disclose campaign contributions. He could face up to six years in prison.
A jury selection hearing is scheduled for June 22.
Trujillo was elected to the Rio Arriba County Commission in 2010 and served two consecutive terms. He also ran for state representative in 2016, but lost in the Democratic Party primary.
The Attorney General’s Office executed search warrants on the EPS district office and Trujillo’s home in January 2017.
Trujillo’s company – 2 Smooth Advertising, later renamed Trujillo Media – was awarded a marketing contract with EPS at an August 2014 school board meeting. The meeting minutes say the board unanimously approved the contract, but “No discussion with reference to the 2 Smooth marketing contract is noted in the minutes,” Attorney General Agent Jon Bergevin wrote in a search warrant affidavit the Journal obtained through a public records request.
Invoices 2 Smooth submitted between September 2014 and June 2015 do not state the specific work that was performed.
“There is no line item accounting of the work performed by 2 Smooth Advertising on any of the invoices,” Bergevin wrote.
“… No supporting documentation containing the time, date or detailed record of the services rendered has been provided to Española Public Schools by Barney Trujillo, nor has any documentation containing these detailed records been provided to the Attorney General’s Office by Española Public Schools pursuant to a records request.”
Regardless, Trujillo was paid $49,203 on this contract.
In June 2015, the school board held a special meeting to approve the 2015-16 budget, which included another $50,000 contract for 2 Smooth Advertising. The budget passed on a 4-1 vote.
“After reviewing the meeting minutes and agendas available on the EPS board book, I have been unable to locate a specific action item approving a 2 Smooth Advertising contract, a marketing contract, or a professional services agreement for marketing services,” Bergevin wrote.
Trujillo was awarded another contract for up to $50,000 in 2016, but it was terminated by the district in April 2017, about three months after the AG’s Office raided the school district office and Trujillo’s house. A Rio Grande Sun article from the time says Trujillo made about $136,000 from his marketing contracts with the district.
School board member Ruben Archuleta told the Journal in May 2017 that the district had nothing to show for Trujillo’s contracts because Trujillo never included anything specific on his invoices.
Neither 2 Smooth Advertising nor Trujillo Media was registered with Rio Arriba County or the secretary of state, the affidavits say.
Documents say 2 Smooth had a storefront location at an Española strip mall, but it’s believed that location closed before the company started getting school district contracts. At all times Trujillo had contracts with the district, he was running the business out of his home in Chimayó.
Trujillo provided in-kind contributions of campaign signs and flyers to campaigns for school board by Yolanda Salazar and Annabelle Almager.
Salazar told Bergevin that Trujillo contributed 12 large signs and over 200 flyers to her 2015 campaign. She also said Trujillo contributed signs to Alamager’s 2013 campaign, but Bergevin wrote in an affidavit that he couldn’t determine the monetary value of those contributions.
“Though the dates of the contributions are unknown at this time, Trujillo would have been required to report his contributions to Yolanda Salazar’s campaign on at least the 2015 contract and likely on the 2016 contract.”
All the contracts Trujillo signed with the district had forms on which he was supposed to disclose any campaign contribution he or a family member made to any applicable public official – school board members, in this case – in the past two years. Trujillo left those forms blank on the 2014 and 2015 contracts, and wrote a large “NA” on the forms for the 2016 contract, the affidavit says.
And as a county commissioner, Trujillo was also supposed to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and submit a financial disclosure form to Rio Arriba County, but he has failed to do that since 2013, the affidavit says. Not disclosing his financial interest in Trujillo Media is a violation of state law, Bergevin wrote.
Alleged ‘backdoor’ dealing
Salazar, current school board president, told Bergevin that at least one time she and former school board members Pablo Lujan and Lucas Fresquez, as well as Trujillo, participated in a meeting at which a quorum of the school board was present at Big Dawgs Restaurant in Española.
Salazar said Trujillo was leading the meeting and was upset over the board’s hiring of Bobbie Gutierrez as superintendent.
“Salazar described the meeting as ‘absolutely not’ proper, describing specifically that the attendees entered the restaurant through the back door,” Bergevin wrote. “She acknowledged that a quorum of the school board meeting is a prohibited act.”
Superintendent Gutierrez also told Bergevin in a separate interview that she had also heard that Trujillo was leading illegal school board meetings.
Trujillo’s attorney, Dan Cron, said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the allegations at this time.
Almager was given the human resources director job at Rio Arriba County shortly after she voted to give Trujillo the contract in 2014. The county reached a settlement with the woman who previously held the job after she threatened to file a whistleblower lawsuit claiming she was replaced in a political dispute.
Almager still holds the position, according to the county’s website.
In March 2016, Bergevin requested emails from EPS under a state Inspection of Public Records Act request, but the emails were not provided after several months. So, Bergevin filed a search warrant affidavit to go into the district’s office and obtain the emails.
“The delay in providing these emails amidst a PED investigation and the other criminal activity described in the affidavit presents concerns about the deletion, alteration, and other threats to the integrity of the emails requested in the IPRA,” Bergevin wrote in the affidavit. “This is a particular concern given the fact that the IPRA request is a public document, and that those individuals whose email correspondence was requested are and likely have been aware of the request for several months.”
In a separate case, married couple Lianne Martinez and Joseph Torres face 15 total counts of fraud, making or permitting a false public voucher, racketeering and conspiracy between January 2015 and April 2016. The AG’s Office alleges that the couple created a company, Enviro-Kleen – hired to order janitorial supplies for the school district – and made about $18,000 in illegal profit by overcharging the district on six different invoices.
Documents in that criminal case say Martinez and Torres had connections in the school district to undermine the procurement process.
Questionable procurement practices caused the state Public Education Department to take over the district’s finances in November 2016. The district regained control last year.