Friday, August 06, 2010
Martinez Bought Supplies From Aide
By Colleen Heild
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Investigative Reporter
The office of Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez bought more than $60,000 in office supplies from a home-based company owned by one of her top deputies and political ally.
There was no contract or competitive bidding process that covered the purchases from 2003 to 2005, and a former state auditor questions whether state law was followed.
But Martinez, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, said the arrangement was legal, had approval from two state agencies and saved the taxpayers money.
She also said she would do it all over again as governor, "so long as there was transparency in that transaction" and a cost savings was the result.
The deputy district attorney involved, Janetta B. Hicks, also a Republican, is now the elected district attorney in the Fifth Judicial District based in Roswell.
Martinez said Hicks' company, Titan Office Supply, is no longer in business.
Invoices submitted to the DA's office from the company list Hicks' name and an address that is a residence in Las Cruces.
The New Mexico Secretary of State used that same address for Hicks on its 2006 general election roster when she ran unsuccessfully for state district judge in Las Cruces.
Hicks was a senior deputy district attorney at that time, and Martinez endorsed her judicial candidacy. Hicks has also worked on Martinez's political campaigns, according to news reports.
Hicks didn't return a Journal phone message or e-mail seeking comment this week.
State law bars contracts for "tangible personal property" between a state agency and a state employee unless a public disclosure is made and the purchases comply with the state Procurement Code. That law also says that the "potential contractor shall not be eligible for a sole source or small purchase contract."
But Martinez, who has been the Las Cruces-based district attorney since 1996, said there was no contract and that her office used Titan because her agency couldn't simply go into a store and purchase supplies.
Purchases had to be routed to the state Department of Finance and Administration for pre-approval and payment.
With Titan Office Supply, she said the office could order the supplies in bulk "at a relatively cheaper price and store (them)."
Asked how she knew Titan had the best prices, Martinez said she could provide examples.
"I know (in retail stores) a case of paper could be as much as $30. ... because we were purchasing it in bulk, it was anywhere from $24 to $25 a case."
She said her office stopped using Titan sometime after 2005 when the state provided agencies with purchase cards so agencies could shop in retail outlets.
Martinez said she cleared the arrangement with Titan with a lawyer for the Secretary of State, who advised that a financial disclosure statement be filed with his office. She couldn't immediately recall the attorney's name on Thursday.
Secretary of State spokesman James Flores this week could find no such disclosures but said his agency isn't required to keep such records on file for more than five years.
Flores said he had no idea what lawyer in his office Martinez might have been referring to.
Martinez also said DFA approved the payments and knew the vendor selling the supplies was owned by one of her employees.
The relationship was also reported in her office's annual audits for those years.
"The auditor actually referenced that very issue saying he was aware there had been purchases of office supplies and it had been through Titan and that all procedures had been complied with ...," Martinez told the Journal.
Martinez's gubernatorial campaign provided the specific pages of the audits where the arrangement was mentioned. The entire audit reports for those years weren't immediately available from the State Auditors' Office.
Domingo Martinez, who was state auditor during that time period, told the Journal on Thursday that he always advised agencies that purchases totaling more than the legal threshold — at that time $10,000 — should go out to bid.
Martinez, a Democrat who is no relation to Susana Martinez, is now Santa Fe County Assessor.
When a reporter described the purchases involving Titan, he said "I think there's some issues there, I really do."
Susana Martinez said there was no need for a bid because there wasn't a single purchase of supplies that was higher than the legal threshold.
Only one purchase, for police car cameras, went out to bid because it was over the procurement limit, she said. Titan bid but didn't win.
Because they are independently elected, district attorneys in New Mexico "are quasi-autonomous," said Pat Davis of the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office. They aren't obliged to make purchases through the state's central purchasing system, he said, but must abide by other procurement rules.
In the year 2003, the DA's office purchased supplies from Titan more than 30 times. Purchases included recognition plaques, a vacuum cleaner, paper and a computer printer. In 2004, Titan Office Supply issued at least 41 invoices for supplies that included four $100 adult body shields and two $2,300 pieces of training equipment.
Martinez in a March 2004 letter to DFA justified such purchases as part of her office's mission to help law enforcement agencies "who bring cases for prosecution."
Neither the city of Las Cruces nor Doña County officials could find Titan Office Supply as having a business license at the time the DA's purchases were made.
Martinez's campaign on Thursday provided the Journal with copies of documents showing Titan had registered with the city.
Martinez said she had no personal or financial interest in Titan Office Supply.
"Many state employees, some of them will have other businesses, elected officials will also have businesses because their elected positions are only part time," she said. "What's important is to make sure we're getting the best price for what we're purchasing, but at the same time making it very obvious to the public who the vendors are."