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Complaint charges nepotism in school funding

PAUL PACHECO

PAUL PACHECO

SANTA FE – A progressive nonprofit organization has filed a complaint against Republican state Rep. Paul Pacheco, alleging the two-term Albuquerque lawmaker failed to disclose his brother’s connection to a Rio Rancho charter school that in recent years received thousands of dollars in state infrastructure funds.

However, Pacheco insisted Tuesday that he did nothing wrong, saying his support for the ASK Academy was not driven by his brother’s involvement – as a contract architect – in renovations and a new campus for the school.

He also said the amount of capital outlay funding he ultimately earmarked for the school was $81,000 over a three-year period, not $1.2 million as alleged in the complaint by ProgressNow New Mexico.

“At no time did I give money to the ASK Academy because of my brother,” Pacheco told the Journal . “I did it because I am a big supporter of the school.”

ProgressNow New Mexico filed the complaint with Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office on Monday, roughly three months before the Nov. 8 general election. Pacheco is seeking re-election this year and is opposed by Democrat Daymon Ely.

In the complaint, Pat Davis, the group’s executive director, urged the AG’s Office to investigate Pacheco’s actions and said the legislator may have violated the state’s Governmental Conduct Act, as well as various House rules.

Despite a state law that appears to restrict state construction contracts when a legislator’s family is involved, “We could not find a single instance where Paul Pacheco ever told the public that his brother and his family’s firm would benefit from his discretionary act,” said Davis, who is also an Albuquerque city councilor.

In response, Pacheco said he did not know his brother, David Pacheco, had done work for ASK Academy until early 2014, when he was informed of the connection by a school administrator.

He said he made no secret of his brother’s involvement after that point and would have disclosed the information if such a form existed for state capital outlay, or public works projects.

“There is nothing nefarious to what I’ve done,” Pacheco said.

New Mexico’s capital outlay system has been criticized in recent years for being politically driven and inefficient. Lawmakers are typically allocated a certain amount of money to divvy up annually for projects, though their final earmarks do not have to be publicly disclosed.

Connie Dove, ASK Academy’s director of advancement, said the school has received a total of $320,000 in capital outlay money over the past three years, with Pacheco among several legislators who have contributed funding.

The academy, a charter school for middle and high school students that emphasizes a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, opened its new 38,950-square-foot campus in Rio Rancho in February.

Meanwhile, James Hallinan, a spokesman for the AG’s Office, confirmed Tuesday that the office had received the complaint regarding Pacheco.

“The matter is under review,” Hallinan said. “All complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General are fully reviewed, and appropriate action is taken.”

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