First gent joined State Police on alligator hunt
Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
An alligator hunting trip to Louisiana with Gov. Susana Martinez’s husband was originally planned as a vacation by State Police officers, but they received their regular pay plus overtime after first gentleman Chuck Franco agreed to go along, administration officials said Friday.
At least $1,000 of Franco’s expenses on the Sept. 5-10, 2011, trip – including two nights in a hunting lodge, an alligator hunting permit and food – were paid for by a Louisiana family member of State Police Officer Ruben Maynes, said Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell.
Maynes and officer Frank Chavez traveled with Franco to provide security. The officers were paid about $1,100 each in overtime during the six-day hunting trip, the Governor’s Office said.
Taxpayers also chipped in $630 in gasoline for the state SUV used by the officers to drive with Franco from Santa Fe to southern Louisiana.
The privately paid-for expenses for Franco did not violate the state law limiting gifts to public officials, because the individuals who paid don’t do “any business with the state,” Knell said.
State Police Chief Robert Shilling said that the hunting trip was planned by the two New Mexico State Police officers, but that the vacation became official business after Franco accepted an invitation to join.
Shilling said his options as chief were to either send additional officers with the group while Maynes and officer Frank Chavez used vacation time, or allow Maynes and Chavez to handle the security detail and “split their time” for personal activities.
“There was no nefarious intent (saying), ‘Hey, let’s plan this trip and invite a dignitary, and therefore we’ll get it paid for,'” Shilling said.
Chavez’s hunt “took all of about five minutes” and that time wasn’t billed as on-the-clock for State Police pay, Shilling said.
Maynes did not hunt, officials said.
The officers each brought along a 12-year-old son, Shilling said. The boys traveled to Louisiana with the officers in the state SUV but were cared for by other family members or friends upon arrival, he said.
Shilling said the officers did not violate any rules by inviting Franco to join the hunting trip.
“I did not initiate an internal affairs investigation. No one’s been disciplined. They didn’t do anything wrong,” Shilling said. ” … I certainly would have preferred different circumstances, but my alternatives were limited with budget and manpower.”
Five months after the trip, the Governor’s Office hired Maynes’ wife, Donna, as an executive assistant earning $55,000 per year, according to state personnel records.
Knell said the decision to hire Donna Maynes was “absolutely not” influenced by the hunting expenses paid by Maynes’ family in Louisiana.
The disclosures about Franco’s alligator hunting trip came after critics of the governor suggested the trip was funded by Louisiana-based owners of the Downs at Albuquerque racino, who at the time were seeking a 25-year lease extension at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque.
“The governor ordered the release of this information to put to rest the ridiculous and utterly baseless assertions by left-wing political groups that the first gentleman’s personal trip was at all related to the (Downs lease),” Knell said. “This information proves their accusations false, just as we have said all along.”
The hunting costs for Franco were paid for by George Blanchard, an uncle of Donna Maynes; and Jody Chenier, a family friend of Maynes, the governor’s spokesman said.
Blanchard told The Associated Press he is not related to Paul Blanchard, an owner of the Downs at Albuquerque.
Both officers said in affidavits last year that Franco did not have any contact with or receive anything from individuals connected with the Downs during the trip. The affidavits were released Friday by the Governor’s Office.
The Martinez administration has denied Inspection of Public Records Act requests for some records related to the Louisiana hunting trip, including time sheets submitted by the State Police officers.
Administration officials have said the release of the records might threaten the security of Martinez and her family.
Administration officials defended their limited release of details about the Louisiana trip because it was a “personal trip” for Franco and unrelated to state business or politics.