|Story updated (Wednesday, November 11, 2009, 9:13 a.m.)|
State Puts Top DOT Executive on Leave
Monday, November 09, 2009
State Highway Official Had Moonlighting Deal at Firm
By Colleen Heild
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Investigative Reporter
Editor's Note: Department of Transportation executive Lawrence Barreras has moved onward and upward in state government despite various controversies, including being fired from his former job in the state Corrections Department. This is the second of a two-part series on DOT's Teflon man.
Controversy Rolls Off DOT Exec Part 1 (Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009)
After the Journal filed a public records request this summer, state transportation officials produced logs that revealed top manager Lawrence Barreras had used a state cell phone to make dozens of calls to an Albuquerque architectural firm.
It turned out Barreras had been working for the firm on the side since 2006, according to a letter he wrote to his supervisor in August.
Barreras, who is divisions director at the state Department of Transportation, said he had previously told various agency officials and lawyers about his outside employment and "they found no issue."
A 2007 state ethics law requires state employees with outside employment to provide written notification to their supervisor or the Secretary of State's Office.
The only disclosure the DOT has produced so far was Barreras' August 2009 letter to his supervisor, Max Valerio, deputy secretary for programs and infrastructure.
That letter was dated after the Journal had requested Barreras' state cell phone records.
Barreras said in a recent e-mail to the Journal that his outside work wasn't a conflict of interest, didn't involve any DOT projects and was permitted under state law.
The architectural firm has had no DOT contracts but was part of a private team that worked on a proposal for a controversial DOT redevelopment project several years ago.
Barreras said in the August letter that he had disclosed his outside employment with NCA Architects to both current department Secretary Gary Girón and former transportation boss Rhonda Faught.
Faught, however, said in a Journal interview that she wasn't aware Barreras had been a consultant for NCA Architects at the same time he was a DOT employee.
Faught said she knew that Barreras had worked for the firm before joining the DOT in 2006 and that he had "kept in contact with them." But she said that only recently had she learned he had been working for the firm as a consultant.
"He was not supposed to be working for them," said Faught, who retired from the DOT in December 2008.
In a recent e-mail, Barreras didn't respond to a Journal question as to why he used a state cell phone to call NCA offices.
Records show 37 calls to or from NCA over a six-month period in 2008. Before that time, the DOT said, Barreras wasn't assigned a state cell phone.
Barreras in an e-mail also didn't respond to a Journal question as to whether he still worked for NCA.
But NCA Architects president Robert Calvani told the Journal on Friday that Barreras "hasn't been a consultant for us for over a year."
Before joining the DOT, Barreras spent two years as an NCA employee, according to his resume. He was listed on a company Web site as its "director of marketing." Calvani said Barreras handled "business development."
In early 2006, the state was planning a major initiative to allow private developers to build new headquarters for the agency and a new district office in Santa Fe.
But the official heading that project, Toby Martinez, resigned because he was being investigated by the FBI for his role in a multidefendant scheme to skim $4.2 million from the construction of the $83 million Metro Court building in Albuquerque.
A federal indictment later issued in the criminal case alleged several people involved in the courthouse scandal had conspired to target a DOT redevelopment project. Faught said in 2007 that the indictment was referring to the District 5 project.
Along with Martinez, Raul Parra, an engineer who worked on the courthouse project, was also linked to the DOT redevelopment plans. Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud in the courthouse case and were sentenced to prison.
Meanwhile, Barreras was hired by the DOT to replace Martinez.
At the time, Barreras' background was predominately in corrections. His education was an associate's degree in criminal justice.
But he had experience at NCA Architects in responding to requests for proposals and in preparing feasibility studies to assist government entities with "planning and design strategies," according to his resume.
The sole bidder on the District 5 project was a Chicago developer who contributed to Richardson's re-election in 2006. The developer assembled a team that included NCA.
The idea was to build a new district office at no cost to the DOT in exchange for ownership of the 42 acres where the current building sits on Cerrillos Road.
But Faught canceled negotiations on the project in early 2007 — about a year after Barreras was hired to head up the project.
She said in a 2007 interview that she couldn't reach a deal satisfactory to the state.
Barreras and Calvani told the Journal that NCA Architects had left the team by the time the project talks ended.
Calvani, appointed to the state's Board of Examiners for Architects by Gov. Bill Richardson, said he couldn't recall whether Barreras worked on the District 5 project proposal while a full-time employee at the architectural firm. Barreras didn't respond to that question, posed to him in a Journal e-mail.
The architectural company has worked on a number of government buildings, including the new state Court of Appeals offices.
Barreras was listed a "consultant for NCA architects" in an October 2006 state campaign finance report showing he contributed $500 to Richardson's re-election campaign. His occupation was listed as "architect" in a federal campaign finance report showing he had contributed $250 to the congressional campaign of then-candidate Harry Teague in May 2008.
In the e-mail to the Journal, Barreras denied listing himself as an architect, and said he didn't "complete" the contribution report.
He wouldn't say whether he has helped raise campaign contributions for Richardson or Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
Barreras still heads up efforts to find ways to redevelop the District 5 and main DOT offices in Santa Fe. Calvani said NCA isn't involved in those discussions.