Gonzales gets hearing to address allegations - Albuquerque Journal

Gonzales gets hearing to address allegations

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales waits for opening arguments to begin at the city’s Ethics Board hearing on Friday. (Mike Sandoval / For the Albuquerque) Journal

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales will get to address evidence that he broke city public financing rules in front of the person who will decide – for a second time – whether he will get over $600,000 in taxpayer money to power his mayoral campaign.

Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson said Monday that his office will conduct a hearing on Gonzales’ public financing case at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The hearing follows a state judge’s ruling that Watson failed to provide Gonzales due process last month when he initially declined to certify the sheriff for the public campaign money. Watson at the time cited evidence he had received with two ethics complaints filed against Gonzales by Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign. Watson notified Gonzales on July 9 that he was rejecting his application for the money, but had not yet allowed Gonzales to answer the claims laid out in the complaints.

State District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled last week that Watson had denied Gonzales due process and sent the matter back to the clerk. He gave Watson until Monday to decide how to remedy the situation – either by giving Gonzales the money or showing that Gonzales was found to have broken the rules after a process in which he could answer the allegations.

Watson ultimately decided to hold his own hearing this week.

He said in a letter to the sheriff Monday that he is “contemplating” a determination that Gonzales is not qualified to receive the money under city rules.

“The basis for this contemplated action … is evidence that you, as a candidate, your campaign’s employees, and the designated representatives for whom you expressly accepted responsibility submitted materially false statements to the Office of the City Clerk, forged qualifying contributions to the Office of the City Clerk in your campaign to obtain public financing, and paid for the contributions of purported contributors,” Watson wrote.

Gonzales’ campaign blasted Watson for setting up a hearing and not simply releasing the funds.

“This is nothing short of an attack on our democracy by Mayor Keller’s administration and we will expose the blatant hypocrisy of stripping Gonzales of funding for the same violations committed by Keller’s own campaign,” campaign manager Shannan Calland said in a statement.

The Keller campaign’s ethics complaints against Gonzales centered on the $5 “qualifying contributions” candidates collect from supportive city voters. Mayoral candidates seeking the public financing pot – worth over $600,000 – must get 1% of city voters to give them $5 to demonstrate sufficient community interest in their candidacy. The complaints alleged that Gonzales’ campaign committed fraud in the process.

Since Watson’s July 9 decision, new information has emerged, which the clerk cited in his letter. That includes:

• Gonzales’ campaign acknowledged submitting forged $5 receipts to the City Clerk.

• The city Office of Inspector General conducted an investigation that reviewed a sample of 239 contributor receipts Gonzales submitted, and found problems with nearly 16%.

• The city’s Board of Ethics last week fined Gonzales $500 after it determined Gonzales broke the rules in a case involving a voter who said he never gave $5 after signing the contribution slip because he said the sheriff told him his campaign would cover the payment.

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