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          Front Page

Checks By APS Police Probed

By Colleen Heild
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Investigative Reporter
    Albuquerque Public Schools police conducted questionable background checks on at least seven people while Gil Lovato was chief, including a woman who was dating Lovato's boss.
    Lovato's attorney, Sam Bregman, said the chief never participated in or ordered any of the questionable checks.
    Bregman said Deputy Superintendent Tom Savage asked Lovato to do a check of a woman he was dating but Lovato declined.
    "My understanding is that he (Savage) wanted a background check done on his girlfriend that he was going to marry. He (Lovato) didn't think it was appropriate to do."
    Bregman said, unknown to Lovato, "Tom Savage then went to one of Mr. Lovato's lieutenants and he (the lieutenant) went and did it." The background check occurred in November.
    The Journal has learned that the request was to made to obtain information about the woman's divorce but that it extended to a check of Albuquerque police records.
    Savage declined to comment Thursday about the matter and wouldn't say whether he asked for the background check.
    After a three-month APS internal investigation, Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt announced in April that Lovato's annual contract wouldn't be renewed but declined to give reasons.
    Lovato, who receives $77,450 a year, is on paid administrative leave until his current contract expires June 30.
    Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Safety and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office have been focusing on another kind of APS background check— this one involving the FBI's Interstate Identification Index, or Triple I.
    Law enforcement agencies are permitted to conduct Triple I checks only if there is an ongoing criminal investigation, if there is reasonable suspicion to believe someone is involved in a specific crime or for employment screening for law enforcement applicants.
    APS officials learned that an audit showed that at least six criminal Triple I checks were done on people who didn't meet any of the criteria.
    "We got a report from the Sheriff's Office in December 2006 regarding an audit of all the background checks conducted by APS police for the previous two years," said APS spokesman Rigo Chavez.
    As a result, APS detective A.V. Romero and Lt. Dave West were disciplined, Chavez said.
    Romero, a former Albuquerque police homicide detective, couldn't be reached for comment. An APS police dispatcher said he was "out in the field."
    West declined to comment.
    Brad Hall, an Albuquerque civil rights lawyer, sent APS a notice dated April 17 on behalf of Joseph Lopez of Albuquerque, who used to work for APS school police.
    Hall alleged that APS conducted an illegal Triple I investigation of Lopez in 2006 "for personal and improper purposes" after Lopez filed an EEO (employment) complaint.
    It's unclear what ties, if any, the other subjects of the "Triple I" checks had to APS.
    School police had been running criminal Triple I checks through the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, which is authorized by DPS and the FBI to conduct such checks.
    But DPS spokesman Peter Olson said Thursday that APS school police have no authority to conduct such checks. He said the agency needs to apply for its own authorization from the FBI.
    He said DPS learned about the practice when a Sheriff's Office employee raised questions earlier this year.
    "BCSO and APS can't share (an authorization number). It's illegal; it's a violation of federal law," Olson said. "BCSO can run stuff for other agencies but only if other agencies have their own (federally approved identification number) for that purpose."
    Lovato has been on paid leave since Jan. 6, when APS internal auditor Allen Wesson began looking at the police agency's evidence room practices to determine whether money seized from suspects was improperly transferred to the APS petty cash fund.
    APS officials have not released the results of that internal audit or a separate personnel investigation conducted by outside private investigators.