DA to refer Gonzales fraud case to State Police - Albuquerque Journal

DA to refer Gonzales fraud case to State Police

From left: AG Hector Balderas, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales, DA Raúl Torrez

 

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

District Attorney Raúl Torrez plans to ask New Mexico State Police to investigate allegations of election-related fraud against Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ mayoral campaign, he wrote in a letter last week to Albuquerque’s city attorney.

Torrez will refer the allegations to State Police after the city’s Nov. 2 election “to prevent the timing of an investigation or prosecution from having an effect on an election,” Torrez wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr.

“I will scrupulously adhere to this practice and will not take official action or make any public comment on this matter until the results of the upcoming election have been certified,” Torrez wrote.

In two weeks, Gonzales will face off against Mayor Tim Keller and radio talk show host Eddy Aragon in the mayoral election.

“My review of this matter will begin immediately, but as you know, prosecutorial decisions must await the completion of a criminal investigation,” Torrez wrote. “Further, my prosecutorial review must be independent and nonpartisan.”

He planned to refer the allegations to State Police, “which is a conflict-free law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over this matter.”

Torrez wrote the letter in response to an Oct. 12 letter from Aguilar formally referring the allegations to both Torrez and Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Shannan Calland, a spokeswoman for the Gonzales campaign, denied any wrongdoing by the Gonzales campaign and said she welcomed any investigations into the allegations.

“The Keller administration sending letters two weeks before the election is a shameless political stunt and demonstrates that Keller knows his campaign is in deep trouble,” Calland said in a written statement.

The letters were obtained through a public records request by Keller’s campaign, according to a written statement from the campaign.

A spokeswoman for Torrez’s office verified the authenticity of the letter Tuesday.

Matt Baca, a spokesman for Balderas, said “the district attorney has asserted jurisdiction in the case,” and the attorney general’s office would “monitor the matter in the event that we need to take appropriate action.”

The allegations of fraud emerged from two ethics complaints filed by Keller’s reelection campaign against the sheriff. Both complaints involved alleged fraud in the way the Gonzales campaign attempted to qualify for public campaign financing.

To qualify for more than $600,000 in public funding, mayoral candidates must demonstrate sufficient community interest by getting 1% of city voters, or 3,779 people, to make nominal $5 contributions.

Both Keller and Gonzales appeared to reach that mark in June. Keller successfully obtained public campaign funding months ago.

But City Clerk Ethan Watson in July declined to certify Gonzales for the money, citing evidence contained in Keller’s ethics complaints, alleging fraud in the collection of the $5 qualifying contributions. The Gonzales campaign acknowledged in July that, based on the campaign’s own investigation, some qualifying contributions submitted to the city clerk’s office appeared to have been signed by someone other than the voter.

After a monthslong fight to obtain public financing, Gonzales announced in September that he would turn to private donors for support and give up his effort to obtain public campaign money.

City Attorney Aguilar outlined the fraud allegation in his letter to Torrez and Balderas. Aguilar said he made the referrals because his office “lacks the prosecutorial authority to investigate or file criminal charges for violations of state law.”

In a separate matter, State Auditor Brian Colón said Tuesday he received an Oct. 4 referral from the city’s Office of Inspector General notifying his office of fraud allegations against Gonzales.

Colón said he had an “open examination” into the allegations and potentially could refer his findings to a prosecutorial agency.

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