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County may face future scrutiny by auditor

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Travel expenses > Former LANL Coalition director used funds for personal burrito lunches

By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County is not out of the woods yet. State Auditor Wayne Johnson said last week more details were found in the audit of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that may require follow up with the county.

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“Obviously, I’m concerned a bit because of the RCLC… You would think they would be aware of state law regarding reimbursement the first time a $28 shot of Whistle Pig came across their desk and it wasn’t flagged. It does concern me and it may be more there that needs to be looked at,” Johnson said. 

“You kind of get to be looking at the fire right in front of you and not the one next to it. It’s something we need to be looking into,” he said.

Johnson said it could be as soon as this year.

“I haven’t made that full determination, but at some point we will be looking at it, Johnson said. “This is about corrective action and making sure the entities are following the law and their own policies, not so much about beating them up.”

A set of documents, ranging from October 2015 to July 2016, requested by the Los Alamos Monitor through a public information request showed former Executive Director Andrea Romero appeared to use RCLC funds as her personal burrito lunch fund.

Romero submitted receipts for lunches at El Parasol Restaurant in Pojoaque 17 times, something that should not have been allowed under any travel policy, Johnson said.

The total amount from El Parasol receipts totaled $225.62.

The most common purchase by Romero was the restaurant’s Calabacita burrito and a soft drink.

The highest amount listed on an El Parasol receipt was for a RCLC meeting on Feb. 20, 2015, that came to $106.13.

“There were just a large number of items that should not have been reimbursed, but they were. Does part of that fault lie with Los Alamos County? It most certainly does,” Johnson said. “Part of it also lies with the executive director, who should have been aware of and informed on both their travel policy with the RCLC and state law in regards to reimbursements.”

Johnson also said he may review RCLC’s recent partnership with Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico, in light of a recent Los Alamos Monitor article detailing a 2009 lawsuit brought against Roger Gonzales, Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico’s president. 

The RCLC hired Chicanos Por La Causa in July to take over management of the RCLC. Romero was the coalition’s last director, who decided not to rebid for the contract in February, shortly after allegations surfaced against her for mismanagement of funds and improper reimbursements related to managing the RCLC.

When Gonzales was a school administrator for the Mora Independent Schools District in 2009, the New Mexico Public Education Department sued Gonzales for financial corruption and misspending thousands of dollars. Details also emerged that Chicanos Por La Causa leases land to Romero for her Ostrich farm.

“Given their history and the personalities involved, I hope Los Alamos County and RCLC were wise enough to be very careful about this procurement. From what I’ve read in the paper, it looks likes perhaps they were careful about it,” Johnson said. “But, I think given the background here, I think it’s probably not a bad idea to at least take a look at it to see what’s going on, to make sure it’s above board,” Johnson said.

In any case, now that the Regional Coalition of Communities has been audited, they will now continue to be, according to Johnson.

“Now that they’re on my radar, and they’ve actually been audited and they’re subject to the audit act, we will be doing it annually,” Johnson said.

Office of State Auditor Spokesman Enrique Knell called including the RCLC in its daily audit cycle a win for the state and its taxpayers.

“They’ve never been audited before. The previous auditor has told them that they had to do audits but it was never enforced. That’s one of the big wins,” Knell said.

Johnson said that was one of the big problems in the first place, one that even Romero acknowledged, he said.

“That was one of Andrea’s quotes. The original sin was not doing the audits,” Johnson said. “When you ignore your audits, they catch up with you.”

Romero did not return requests for comment Tuesday.