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Councilors Seek Audit of Architect's Contracts

By Jim Ludwick
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    City councilors will get a proposal Monday for an independent audit of all city contracts that might have a link to Marc Schiff.
    Schiff, former president of Design Collaborative Southwest, has admitted a role in the Metropolitan Court corruption scandal. In a plea agreement, he said he submitted false invoices to get money from state government and helped funnel kickbacks to other conspirators.
    The audit will be sought by Council President Debbie O'Malley and Councilor Brad Winter. They will introduce legislation Monday and plan to seek council discussion May 7.
    Their proposal would earmark $50,000 for the audit, which would be conducted by an independent firm.
    Metro Court was a state-government project, but DCSW and its successor, Studio Southwest Architects, have done millions of dollars of work for the city.
    City records show roughly $8 million in contracts in recent years, principally for the creation of the balloon museum and master planning for Balloon Fiesta Park.
    Other city projects included master planning and architectural services for the fire academy.
    The city has suspended all contracts with the firm. No decision has been made about potential reinstatement or cancellation of the contracts, said Ed Adams, the city's chief operating officer.
    Studio Southwest Architects officials have severed the firm's relationship with Schiff and adamantly deny there was any wrongdoing on the part of current principals and employees.
    The audit proposal will ask for a report to be made directly to the City Council in June.
    It would focus on all contracts "under which architect Marc Schiff may have received compensation," the proposal says.
    "I just want to get a clear picture of what took place," O'Malley said Friday evening.
    "There are a lot of questions. We don't want to presume or assume but to just have an understanding of what took place," she said.
    Winter said an audit seems reasonable, especially in light of Schiff's admission that he submitted false invoices on the state Metro Court project.
    "He's done a lot of work for the city," Winter said. "Taxpayers need to know that their money is being spent the way it's supposed to be spent."
    Auditors would report on the total paid to Schiff for design or consulting work and any irregularities found in bidding or change orders.
    The balloon museum and Balloon Fiesta Park would get special scrutiny. Auditors would examine contracts, change orders, invoices and other topics, such as the selection process leading to contracts.
    Councilors would also be interested in recommendations from auditors for changes in city purchasing ordinances and policies, the proposal says.
    The Metro Court case became official last month with the release of a 26-count indictment. Prosecutors say there was a conspiracy to take $4.2 million in taxpayer money during construction of the $83 million project.
    Schiff, in his plea agreement, said he prepared false invoices on a computer at his home. The invoices were approved at Metro Court and payment vouchers were sent to the state. Checks from the state were then sent to the accounting department of the Metro Court.
    Schiff said he would pick up the checks and deposit them in a personal investment account. He then wrote checks on the investment account, cashing or depositing them in a personal bank account. From the bank account, he made ATM withdrawals or cashed checks.
    In his plea agreement, Schiff said he used the money for kickbacks and made cash payments of as much as $30,000.
    He said he feared he would lose the Metro Court contract if he didn't keep paying the money.
    Schiff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud.