COUNTY NOTIFIES DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF POSSIBLE CRIMINAL ACTS

COUNTY NOTIFIES DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF POSSIBLE CRIMINAL ACTS

Doña Ana County Manager Brian D. Haines today notified Third Judicial District Attorney Susana Martinez that an internal investigation into project administration has reached the point that the assistance of law enforcement is warranted.

The internal investigation, Haines said, began with management concerns that three projects funded by state legislative appropriations may have been mishandled. In the last week, he said, more than a dozen additional projects have come under close scrutiny for apparent irregularities, and more files are being opened and investigated.

“At this point,” Haines said, “it appears clear to me that I was systematically lied to by at least three former employees with direct ties to the projects we are investigating. It appears that public funds were used to construct recreational facilities on non-county-owned land. It appears that payment was made for furnishings that were never delivered. It appears that the Finance staff was defrauded into appropriating funds to close out grants that were approaching their funding cut-off deadlines. The further I get into this investigation, the more I am concerned about its range and implications. The promise I make to the public is that those responsible will be held accountable.”

Haines said each of the projects investigated thus far was handled by former Senior Director for Infrastructure and Public Works Steve Decker and his subordinate, former General Services Administrator Ken Barton. Former employee David Barela, who reported to Barton, was the project engineer for all state appropriation projects. All three resigned from the county within a few weeks of one another, with the first resignation – Barton’s – coming in late June, just after the County Manager’s Office ordered Decker’s departments to turn over all state legislative appropriation files to the County Manager’s Office.

“At first, I was simply concerned about the pace at which projects were being handled,” Haines said. “As we dug into the files, the more alarmed I became. By the beginning of this week, I began notifying commissioners and legislators that the problem we’re addressing may include criminal activity. Our internal investigation is just beginning. The decision was made this morning to involve the District Attorney, and upon her advice, we are working with the Las Cruces Police Department to initiate a criminal investigation. The county will, of course, cooperate fully to see that the investigation proceeds quickly and completely.”

Haines said the decision to launch a criminal probe resulted from two instances in which public funds were apparently used to construct recreational facilities – a basketball court in Del Cerro and an in-line hockey court on Hangar Lake Road – on non-county-owned land. The in-line hockey court, Haines said, was constructed in direct opposition to a planned park in the area for which Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson allocated state funding. In addition, he said, the internal investigation indicates that the Finance Department was defrauded into issuing a check for bookshelves that have never been delivered to the Anthony Library.

“I believe we have assembled enough information to lay the foundation for a criminal investigation of these matters,” Haines said. “Our internal investigation will focus in the short-term on the state appropriations, but I’m not ruling out an expanded investigation as the process unfolds.”