Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
State Auditor Tim Keller’s name has surfaced in an out-of-state breach-of-contract lawsuit in which a former employee of a Native American consulting firm for which Keller worked alleges the former state senator, among others, was “improperly paid” to help the company win contracts from Native American clients.
Keller’s name is mentioned in a counterclaim filed by the defendant in the case, Nikishna Polequaptewa, a 33-year-old Hopi activist and a former senior strategist at Blue Stone Strategy Group LLC, based in Irvine, Calif.
Keller is not party in the lawsuit and denied last week ever soliciting work for the firm, where he worked as a financial analyst from the summer of 2009 until last fall.
Polequaptewa’s attorney, Michael Khouri of Irvine, told the Journal that according to his client, Keller would get 5 percent to 10 percent of the proceeds of each contract he won for the firm. Khouri said he didn’t know what contracts his client was referring to.
Polequaptewa is being sued by Blue Stone for breach of contract and computer fraud in federal court in California. He resigned from the firm last year.
The lawsuit alleges Polequaptewa improperly accessed the firm’s computer system and misappropriated trade secrets emails, customer information, and other protected data for his own gain or to harm Blue Stone. Polequaptewa denies any wrongdoing.
According to court filings in the case, Polequaptewa has been under investigation by the FBI, which was called to investigate computer intrusions discovered by Blue Stone last year.
Keller represented Senate District 17 in Albuquerque from 2009 until he took office as state auditor in January.
He told the Journal last week that he was a midlevel manager in the consulting firm, which helps tribes and pueblos across the country in the areas of planning, community development, finance, real estate and corporate governance.
Keller said he had little interaction with Polequaptewa, who worked in California.
“This is a sad, baseless, partisan misrepresentation of Blue Stone and me; and obvious retaliation from the Republican Party for shining a light on abuse of power in the governor’s administration,” Keller said.
Keller has referred a case involving possible misconduct by state Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla to the state attorney general for investigation.
The state Republican Party, meanwhile, issued a press release last week citing the California lawsuit and contending that Keller was being accused of violating the state governmental conduct act.
“I flatly deny the GOP’s suggestions,” Keller said, adding that he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit until last week.
Polequaptewa’s counterclaim, filed in April, says he worked for Blue Stone for about six months in Irvine, Calif. Then, last fall, he was told to move to Florida with his family to be a “lead strategist” on a Blue Stone project, and he objected.
Before resigning in November, he contends, he submitted two internal “whistleblower” complaints with corporate officers.
He named Keller along with four national tribal leaders as having been “improperly paid … to convince their constituents to get contracts for Blue Stone.”
Blue Stone attorney Matthew A. Berliner told the Journal last week that he wasn’t aware of any whistleblower complaints filed by Polequaptewa. He said the counterclaim was a futile attempt to divert attention from the original computer fraud case.
“Mr. Keller was a former, salaried employee of Blue Stone and was employed for his analytical and financial skills and his background in business,” Berliner said. He added that Keller was never “a shareholder or director”of the company, formed in 2007.
Keller, who graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School, said he did budget forecasting, such as gas station pricing, for the firm.
Keller said that the company doesn’t lobby government entities and that he was never asked to do so on its behalf.
“That kind of issue never came up, because that’s not the work I do,” he said.
Capital outlay requests
A check of Keller’s legislative record shows that of more than 330 bills, memorials and capital outlay requests he sponsored during his Senate stint, only six are specifically related to Native American projects or issues.
He sponsored a memorial in 2009 to evaluate the health benefits of Native American soccer.
Of his five capital outlay requests that related to Native Americans, the largest was $6.5 million for the Native American Community Academy charter school in 2009. Keller said he wasn’t working for Blue Stone at the time.
Keller told the Journal he sought the funding because the school, which opened in 2013, was to be located in the heart of his Southeast Albuquerque Senate district. The school also asked multiple other lawmakers to submit such requests, he added.
Keller filed four other funding requests – two for improvements at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center; one at a Bernalillo County Native American center; and another for the Albuquerque Indian Center. The latter two centers were in his state Senate district, he said, and the cultural center requests were part of a group request from a group legislators from both parties, he added.
“Blue Stone was never in any way involved in any of those projects,” Keller told the Journal in an email. “As noted, that is not the kind of work they do.”