Monday, August 10, 2009
Shakedown Claims May Affect Campaign
Copyright © 2009
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
John Hall Bode isn't running for office and he isn't talking publicly. But what he says in court may figure into Mayor Martin Chávez's bid for re-election.
A pilot and former police officer, Bode is at the center of allegations outlined in a federal lawsuit and deposition that the mayor's staff pressured him to provide free or discounted air service for the mayor because that's how "politics worked in New Mexico."
Bode claims that when he refused, the city retaliated against his business at Double Eagle II Airport.
Bode's most-detailed shakedown allegations are leveled primarily at Fred Mondragón, who was the city's economic development director before moving to a similar position as a Cabinet secretary under Gov. Bill Richardson.
It's an accusation Mondragón tersely denies — although he won't talk any more than Bode will.
Mondragón responded to a Journal interview request by releasing a one-sentence statement: "These allegations are completely untrue."
Ed Adams, the highest executive under Chávez, calls the allegations unsubstantiated "garbage" from a contractor trying to pressure the city into an unfavorable lease deal without competitive bidding.
Voters can expect to hear more about the case in the run-up to the Oct. 6 election. Mayoral candidate Richard Romero has highlighted the case in messages to supporters and says combating cronyism is one of his signature issues.
The campaign of fellow challenger Richard Berry is watching the lawsuit closely, too. Berry campaign manager Dana Feldman said the suit is something "we're keeping ours eyes on, and it is an issue that many people in the community are very concerned about."
Chávez, in a statement issued through his campaign, downplayed the issue. "They are false allegations," he said. "Therefore, we do not expect them to be a campaign issue."
Bode's company, Bode Aero Services Inc., is a city contractor that helps operate Double Eagle II Airport on the West Side.
Bode alleges the mayor's top executives retaliated against the company — because it wouldn't provide the air service, among other things — by refusing to sign off on updates to its lease agreements with the city.
Adams dismisses that claim.
City procurement rules, he said, would prevent any opportunity to retaliate against or favor certain contractors.
"There's no way any of those kinds of things can happen," he said.
Bode recently answered questions from city lawyers under oath.
In that deposition, he explained his allegations in detail for the first time under questioning by Peter Pierotti, an attorney for the city.
The Journal obtained the deposition through an Inspection of Public Records request filed at City Hall.
The questioning, which took place over two days in May and June, was completed as part of the federal lawsuit pending before U.S. District Judge William P. "Chip" Johnson.
Plaintiffs are Bode Aero Services Inc, Bode Aviation Inc., Aviation Security Inc., John R. Bode, John H. Bode, Diane Bode and Christine Pica. The defendants are Chávez, unnamed city officials and the city.
According to the 391-page deposition:
Bode said that, on a trip to Mexico a few years ago, Mondragón, asked him to set up a vacation for the mayor, preferably in Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta.
"He asked me to cover the expenses of that for the mayor and said that this was a good way — this is the way that, you know, politics worked in New Mexico," Bode said. "This is a good way for me to grow my business."
Bode said he refused and told Mondragón he had never had a politician ask for something like that. Bode said Mondragón responded with a Spanish phrase the meaning of which Bode didn't know.
Bode acknowledged that he wasn't sure whether the mayor had heard the conversation, although he said Chávez was nearby at the time. Bode said generally that Mondragón "constantly tried to get things for free."
Mondragón isn't talking, but Adams responded forcefully.
"Fred would never say that," he said. "What we've got here is more of the same unsubstantiated allegations that don't even match what they put in the lawsuit."
Bode met with the FBI to explain his allegations. He requested the meeting and talked to federal agents earlier this year for at least an hour. They appear to have launched an inquiry of some kind, Bode said, because they called to ask follow-up questions.
The Journal reported in April that the FBI had contacted City Councilor Michael Cadigan to ask what he knew of the allegations. The FBI wouldn't say publicly whether it had opened an investigation.
n Bode said he had a recording of city officials in 2007 telling him the mayor was holding up lease negotiations. The recording was made when the officials visited Bode's office, which has surveillance equipment.
n In questioning Bode, Pierotti, the city attorney, gave a preview of what the city's legal strategy might be. He repeatedly suggested the negotiation over flights was routine, a natural consequence of the city wanting to keep its costs down like any other customer would — not part of an illegal shakedown. He also pressed Bode for corroborating witnesses who might have heard some of the conversations.