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Donor Linked to Sole DOT Bidder

By Thomas J. Cole
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Investigative Reporter
    A company associated with a Chicago developer was the sole bidder on the smaller of two state Transportation Department redevelopments, which is the project state officials say is referenced in last week's federal grand jury indictment.
    The bidder on what is called the District 5 office redevelopment was Jaguar Development Group II, a limited-liability company associated with developer Demetrios Dellaportas— a significant campaign contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson.
    An indictment handed up Thursday in the Metropolitan Courthouse construction scandal in Albuquerque alleges defendants in that case also conspired to target a Transportation Department development.
    The indictment didn't allege any wrongdoing by the bidder or identify the project, but Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said the indictment refers to the District 5 redevelopment.
    The DOT announced plans in 2005 to relocate its District 5 office from a fast-growing area on Santa Fe's south side.
    The department wanted a developer to provide comparable property in another location and build new office and maintenance facilities for District 5 at no charge to the DOT.
    In return, the developer would get ownership of the 42 acres on which District 5 sits.
    The redevelopment is similar but for the most part separate from the Transportation Department's plans to redevelop its 25-acre headquarters property near downtown Santa Fe.
    That project calls for a developer to provide the department with a new headquarters and train station in exchange for getting a lease to develop the rest of the property for housing and retail and commercial space.
    The Transportation Department is in negotiations with SCS Development on that project. SCS is affiliated with Santa Fe businessman Gerald Peters, also a major Richardson contributor.
    The cost of the headquarters redevelopment is estimated at $350 million to $400 million. While the District 5 project is smaller, it still involves tens of millions of dollars.
   
2 linked to projects
    Two of those indicted in the Metropolitan Courthouse scandal— Toby Martinez and engineer Raul Parra— have been linked to both redevelopment projects.
    After being fired from his job as Metro Court administrator, Martinez was hired by the Transportation Department in late 2004 as its manager for the headquarters redevelopment. He also did some work on the District 5 redevelopment.
    Although not under contract, Parra flew with Martinez, Faught and other DOT officials on state aircraft to two meetings on the headquarters project with an architectural firm in Dallas.
    In her statement Thursday, Faught said that before being interviewed by federal investigators, she had no knowledge of Parra's alleged role with the sole bidder on the District 5 redevelopment.
    The indictment in the Metro Courthouse case provides few details of the alleged conspiracy involving the DOT project.
    It says part of the conspiracy was that Martinez would tell the sole bidder to hire Parra, and that Parra would tell the sole bidder that he expected to receive a percentage of project costs.
    Martinez and Parra, along with former Senate President Pro-Tem Manny Aragon, have pleaded not guilty to charges they skimmed millions of dollars off the Metro Courthouse construction project.
    Aragon was supposed to help get Martinez hired at DOT, the indictment said, and Faught has acknowledged she talked to the former Senate leader about hiring Martinez.
    The Transportation Department advertised twice in 2005 for developers for the District 5 project but got only one bidder— Jaguar Development Group.
    Faught said she canceled the project because her agency couldn't reach a satisfactory agreement with the developer.
    The DOT still plans to relocate the District 5 office. Some operations at its headquarters site are also to be transferred there.
    Dellaportas, the developer associated with Jaguar Development Group, couldn't be reached for comment.
    Dellaportas or companies associated with him have been involved in other development in New Mexico, including projects in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
   
Gov. contributions
    Finance reports show Jaguar Development Group II and Dellaportas each contributed $10,000 to the governor's re-election campaign just days before the election last year.
    Dellaportas has since contributed $2,300 to Richardson's presidential campaign. That is the maximum allowed for the primary season.
    The donations in the governor's race came a few months after enactment of a new state law on contractor contributions.
    The law prohibits a prospective contractor from making a campaign contribution during the procurement process to a public official who has influence in the awarding of a contract.
    The law bans contributions up until the point at which a contract is issued or a request for proposals is canceled.
    Faught said she canceled the District 5 project earlier this year— after the contributions were made.
    Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said, "It is not clear whether the law applies to the governor in this case. Even so, the issue is dead because the RFP negotiations never resulted in a contract. The remedy for the violation would have been to cancel the award status or void the contract."
    Through a spokeswoman, Peters said Friday that he was among the original partners in Jaguar Development Group but gave up his interest in 2005 because he couldn't be involved in both the DOT District 5 and headquarters projects.