FBI INVESTIGATING SWEETHEART GOVERNMENT CONTRACT TO ALBUQUERQUE DOWNS
Although state fair officials report to have no knowledge of an FBI investigation into the 25-year sweetheart deal the Martinez government made with the Albuquerque Downs, a story by Justin Horwath and Joey Peters in the Santa Fe Reporter reveals that FBI investigators have been focusing on Martinez staffers for information about the carefully orchestrated deal. Although Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the Albuquerque FBI would not give any information about a possible investigation, several Martinez staffers revealed that they were questioned by the FBI, specifically about the process that ended up granting the Albuquerque Downs the 25-year racing contract, and the permission to build a big, new casino in the heart of Albuquerque, at the corner of Louisiana Blvd and Central Ave.
The government RFP, Request for Proposal, showed all the managerial style of a half-track. Governor Martinez was presented in the 2011 legislative session with a senate memorial that asked her to select a task force to study the potential for a broad array of possible uses for the 83 acres then being used by the Albuquerque Downs racetrack. She ignored the memorial, and, instead, set up a RFP process that allowed only 30 days for proposals, on what turns out to be a billion dollar venture. Laguna Pueblo and Albuquerque Downs were the only applicants with enough previous warning to put together a proposal in that short a period of time.
The commission the Governor chose picked the Albuquerque Downs after the thirty days, although sources indicated that emails between government officials and Downs management had the Downs picked before the process was completed, or the State Fair Commission voted.
As reported in a story in the Albuquerque Journal, the first round with the State Fair Commission in November 9 of 2011 ended in chaos, because the chairman, “Hossie” Sanchez, was able to tell by commissioner comments that the contract was about to be voted down. “Hossie” got a motion passed to adjourn the meeting, and used the following weeks to allow the Downs managers to have a private meeting with the swing vote, “Buster” Goff, where they made promises of modifications in the lease that resulted in a change of his vote. The next commission meeting on November 21 resulted in a four to three victory for the Downs, with Commissioner Goff casting the deciding vote.
The State Board of Finance meeting voted unanimously in December 2011 to approve the contract with the Albuquerque Downs. There was no debate, but a tightly orchestrated series of endorsements for the contract. The governor’s promises of transparency and open government were shelved in favor of a deal for a major campaign contributor with a record of violating old contracts.
It’s interesting (and fun) to speculate about the possible results of an FBI investigation into the RFP process that gave the Albuquerque Downs it’s 25-year lease. Could we dare to hope that the RFP process would be nullified and the contract thrown out? Could the investigation result in possible criminal charges against public officials and/or Downs management for violations of state law? Will it all be swept under the table like so many other gambling related scandals?