SANTA FE – Police Chief Eric Garcia continues to have the support of Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales in the wake of criminal fraud charges filed against Lt. Jason Wagner, a high-ranking officer who Garcia brought back to the department despite allegations of possible time card fraud raised by Garcia’s predecessor as chief.
A criminal information filed last week by District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco charges Wagner with four counts of “receiving public money for services not rendered,” a 4th degree felony.
Wagner’s Santa Fe attorney, John Day, strongly denied the charges against Wagner and said they’re political.
“He’s been cleared by two prior reviews and this is simply old school Santa Fe city politics and he looks forward to clearing his name,” Day said Monday.
“There is a lot of internal turmoil regarding the police department right now,” Day said.
Mayor Gonzales, in a telephone interview, listed a series of goals set for Garcia when he was hired as chief last summer, in areas such as reducing property crime rates, improving police morale, community outreach and reducing domestic violence and narcotics crimes. “He continues to hit some of those key metrics,” Gonzales said.
Asked if he thought there were politics behind the charges against Wagner, the mayor said, “I have no idea.” Gonzales said it’s up to Garcia and City Manager Brian Snyder “to determine whatever course of action needs to happen … whether it’s Mr. Wagner’s future or any other police officer’s future.”
Wagner has been with the department for 16 years except for several months after he resigned when former Chief Ray Rael alleged Wagner falsified time cards.
Last year, Wagner told a private investigator brought in by Garcia that he may have been targeted because Rael thought Wagner was too sympathetic to the police officers’ union.
Rael had a contentious relationship with the union over tough disciplinary policies and getting rid of three-day weekends for officers, whose work weeks previously consisted for four 10-hour days. Garcia is considered much closer to the union and went back to four-day work weeks.
Wagner resigned Jan. 3, 2014, after a GPS recording device placed on his patrol car by the Rael administration “brought into question his activities while on duty,” said a memo from Garcia to Snyder.
After Garcia was named chief in June he rehired Wagner. Garcia first had a private investigator do “a limited inquiry” into Wagner’s resignation and the time card issue. But the investigator never spoke with Rael.
“I think a mistake has been made,” Rael said in August of Wagner’s rehire. Rael said “the GPS indicated he was spending a substantial amount of time away from work when he was scheduled to work.”
Day said on Monday, “There’s some payback that’s taking place and Jason is a target of some politicians.” He called the allegations “false and fabricated and we look forward to clearing his (Wagner’s) name.”
The charges against Wagner will go to a preliminary hearing, where a judge will determine if the evidence constitutes “probable cause” for the charges to go to trial.
Wagner is on restricted duty and has turned in his car, gun and badge and will now be the subject of a police department internal investigation, a police spokeswoman said. Wagner is scheduled to be arraigned in state District Court in Santa Fe on March 9 with a preliminary hearing expected to be scheduled in late March or early April.