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Gonzales campaign acknowledges apparent forgery

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ mayoral campaign says the forgery allegations it is facing seem to be true based on its own internal review and that Gonzales will support further investigation by the city of Albuquerque’s Inspector General.

In a filing to the City of Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices, a Gonzales campaign attorney wrote “it does appear, upon the Gonzales campaign’s own investigation, that many of the qualifying-contribution receipts identified (in an ethics complaint) – while comprising a tiny fraction of the campaign’s total validated number – were signed by someone other than the voter.”

Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign – which filed the ethics complaint – distributed the document Wednesday with a news release.

According to the filing, Gonzales welcomes an independent investigation into the matter since his campaign does not have the resources to do what it says are the necessary individual voter interviews. The sheriff’s camp is pushing for the city’s Office of Inspector General – an independent accountability agency – to handle the investigation, rather than the city attorney, who was appointed by Keller and confirmed by the City Council.

The filing comes less than a week after City Clerk Ethan Watson denied Gonzales’ application for public financing in the Albuquerque mayoral race, a decision Watson based in part on evidence submitted with the ethics complaint.

The Keller campaign alleged Gonzales’ campaign turned in forged documentation in an attempt to qualify for $600,000-plus in taxpayer-funded campaign cash.

To qualify, candidates must demonstrate they have community support by collecting $5 contributions from 1% of registered city voters (3,779 people). They must get signed receipts for all contributions collected in-person, and Watson’s office verified nearly 4,200 of Gonzales’ qualifying contributions. However, Keller’s complaint raised questions about the legitimacy of the voter signatures on nearly 150 of the receipts Gonzales’ campaign submitted. About 40 voters have confirmed to Keller’s campaign that they never signed the receipts Gonzales’ campaign submitted in their name.

Gonzales has appealed Watson’s decision – arguing in part that Watson, appointed by Keller with the City Council’s consent – is not impartial and that he made his decision without giving Gonzales a chance to answer the allegations.

A contract city hearing officer is holding a hearing on Gonzales’ appeal Thursday. Gonzales’ campaign did not immediately respond to Journal questions Wednesday night.

Keller campaign manager Neri Holguin said in a statement the new filing shows Watson made the right call.

“This admission of guilt is a huge development and raises serious questions about Gonzales and his leadership as both a candidate and top law enforcement official,” Holguin said.

The Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices is scheduled to hear the forgery complaint next week. The board will hear a separate ethics complaint Keller’s campaign filed against Gonzales on Friday.

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