Friday, June 11, 2010
Laptops, Gift Cards Common Kickbacks
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
The parts managers at two of City Hall's vehicle maintenance yards accepted gift and prepaid credit cards in exchange for steering government business to a confidential informant, according to allegations in court documents released Thursday.
That's just how business was done, the informant was told.
"I will start buying from you if you guys could offer the same stuff as (another company) has been," one of the parts managers said.
Police monitored the conversations and took photos, the documents say.
In one conversation, for example, one of the managers tells the informant that his previous kickbacks included laptop computers and that it was "common for vendors to provide lunches and vacations to parts buyers," according to a search warrant affidavit.
Ruben Montoya and Ralph Garcia have been charged in the case and are on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation, officials said. Police say they aren't sure how broad the scheme was but that it could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks paid out over years.
Mayor Richard Berry's administration, meanwhile, instructed all department heads to review their purchasing procedures and asked Albuquerque's inspector general and internal auditor for a review of the procurement system, said David Campbell, the city's chief administrative officer.
Contracts with three vendors have been suspended because they were mentioned in court documents, officials said.
"This investigation should serve as an example of what this administration will do when it learns of public corruption in city government," Campbell said in an afternoon news conference. "I want to say to those involved: If you think you can get away with this, you are mistaken. We will root you out and prosecute you."
The city said it might file civil lawsuits against vendors or others alleged to have participated in kickbacks.
Montoya, parts purchasing manager at the city's Pino Yards, and Garcia, parts manager at the Sixth Street Yards, each has been charged with three counts of soliciting or receiving kickbacks. Montoya also faces a conspiracy charge.
In court documents unsealed Thursday, police allege:
n That Montoya accepted a $120 prepaid Visa card, a $200 Target gift card and a $350 Visa card from a confidential informant. The deals were set up as part of a police investigation into kickbacks. Montoya was to receive kickbacks of 5 percent for supply purchases.
n That Garcia accepted a $35 Target gift card and an $85 Visa card.
n That a conversation monitored by police includes Montoya, 40, discussing kickbacks from other vendors. "For every 10 batteries, I get a $25 Walmart gift card," he said at one point. At another: "I will start buying from you if you guys could offer the same stuff as (another company) has been."
A criminal complaint-arrest warrant affidavit says the investigation started when an informant "had information that a 'kickback' scheme was occurring between B&B Automotive, U.S. Distributing, Parts Plus" and city officials.
A man who answered the telephone at U.S. Distributing told the Journal that "we don't participate in anything like that" but said further comment would have to come from someone else due in the office today.
A woman at Parts Plus, which B&B is part of, said she couldn't discuss the allegations. She referred questions to the owner, who wasn't available.
The three companies apparently were on an approved list of vendors that managers could work with, officials said. Whether city rules gave managers too much flexibility "is one of the things we'll be reviewing," Campbell said.
Anonymous tips have helped in the investigation, city officials said. A tip line has been set up at 768-3721 for people who have information about the case or similar "questionable interactions of this nature," Campbell said.
The mayor was out of town with his family Thursday but has been receiving updates on the case. This week's arrests came after a six-month investigation launched by the mayor's office, the administration said.
The Journal wasn't able to reach Montoya, who was released from jail Wednesday. Garcia, 64, was still at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Thursday afternoon, according to custody records.