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Ethics complaint accuses Gonzales of election fraud

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales speaks at a news conference last week. Mayor Tim Keller’s campaign filed an ethics complaint Monday accusing Gonzales of election fraud. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign is accusing opponent and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales of committing fraud in his effort to obtain public financing.

An ethics complaint filed by the Keller campaign Monday alleges Gonzales personally told a voter that he did not have to pay the $5 contribution that Gonzales must collect from 3,779 city voters to qualify for public financing.

A Gonzales campaign official denied the accusation in a written statement Monday.

“This is a baseless complaint and neither Sheriff Gonzales, nor the campaign covered any contribution,” Megan McMillan said in the statement.

“Instead of filing baseless campaign complaints, Mayor Keller should focus on fighting real crime in Albuquerque,” she said.

According to the complaint filed with the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office, Gonzales allegedly told the voter that his campaign would cover the $5 contribution, which is a violation of Albuquerque’s election law.

The complaint was accompanied by a written statement from Dean Zantow, a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, who alleges the fraud occurred when Gonzales attended a May 27 board meeting as an invited guest.

After speaking to the board, Gonzales and two sheriff’s deputies allegedly asked board members to sign a petition to permit Gonzales to appear on the ballot as a candidate for mayor.

Gonzales and the deputies also allegedly asked the board members to sign a document saying they had provided a $5 “qualifying contribution” that would allow Gonzales to qualify for public financing.

Zantow wrote in his statement that he agreed to fill out a receipt showing that he had provided a $5 qualifying contribution, then asked Gonzales: “Am I supposed to give you $5?”

Gonzales allegedly responded, “No, that’s OK, we’ll cover that,” according to Zantow’s statement. Zantow signed and dated the statement Sunday.

Zantow said in a phone interview Monday night that he made a $5 contribution to the Keller campaign Tuesday. At that time, Zantow informed the Keller campaign worker that Gonzales had not required him to pay $5, he said.

“I thought it was irregular, but I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” Zantow said.

The campaign worker then alerted the Keller campaign, he said.

Attached to the complaint is a copy of a $5 contribution receipt, dated May 27, allegedly signed by both Zantow and Gonzales.

The ethics complaint alleges that Gonzales’ campaign submitted the contribution receipt to the City Clerk’s Office on June 1.

Since 2007, Albuquerque mayoral candidates have been allowed to choose to finance their campaigns publicly or privately.

Both Gonzales and Keller are seeking public financing for their campaigns.

Candidates seeking public funding have until June 19 to obtain the $5 contributions to qualify for $661,309 in public financing. Election Day is Nov. 2.

The city’s election code requires that $5 qualifying contributions be paid by the contributor listed on the receipt, and that “if the funds are provided by any other person other than the contributor who is listed on the receipt, the qualifying contributions will be deemed fraudulent.”

McMillan said Keller faced his own election complaints during his first campaign in 2017.

“It’s rich that we’re getting lectured on ethics from the campaign that was found guilty of … breaking the city law in the last election,” McMillan said in the statement.

In 2017, the city’s Board of Ethics & Campaign Practices found that Keller’s campaign violated the election code with its handling of in-kind donations. But the board did not issue a reprimand or a fine, determining that Keller had “acted in good faith and did not intend to violate” the rules.

McMillan also pointed out in her statement that Gonzales had received an endorsement Monday from Michael Geier, former chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, whom Keller forced to retire last year after two years as APD’s chief.

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