Legislators Ask AG to Expand Investigation of Controversial Lease Award

New Mexico Roundhouse


SANTA FE—A group of 14 state legislators, prompted by information learned in the Senate Rules Committee (SRC) this week, sent a letter to the Attorney General Thursday requesting that the office expand its investigation of the controversial lease award to The Downs Racetrack & Casino.

The letter, signed by eight senators and six representatives, is based upon statements made public from three former and current State Fair Commissioners, all Republican appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez. Current State Fair commissioner Kenneth “Twister” Smith, and former commissioners Charlotte Rode and Tom Tinnin, who resigned from the Board of Finance in protest of the irregularities of the lease award, all told committee members of the SRC of the highly secretive process surrounding the lease.

Under a threat of subpoena for missing two consecutive SRC meetings, State Fair Manager Dan Mourning finally showed up to talk to senators on Thursday. His statements directly contradicted those of Smith, Rode and Tinnin, who said that they felt the commission was shut out of the casino’s RFP process. They said the process was directed by the governor’s inner circle and not by the State Fair Commission, which is charged by law to make such decisions.

“We heard a slew of new information from three governor-appointees who were willing to speak up in the face of incredible partisan pressure,” Sen. Tim Keller, D-Bernalillo said. “Transparency is always best and my constituents deserve to know what really happened.”

Keller’s district includes the historic, 98-acre state fairgrounds.

Tinnin, a Republican who has served under many governors of both parties, said that a secret selection committee was sprung upon the State Fair Commission, whose members were pressured to rubber stamp the Downs selection, and that the governor herself made it clear to Tinnin how she wanted him to vote. “Either she’s lying, she’s out of the loop, or both,” Tinnin told the SRC of the governor’s public stand on the process.

“We have learned so much more information about this convoluted RFP process, both from the former commissioners and the National Journal article,” SRC Chair Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo said. “Just for clarity’s sake we need the people involved to account for their decisions, which they have not done so far.”

The other senators requesting the expanded probe include Jacob Candelaria (D-26, Bernalillo), Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-15, Bernalillo), Howie Morales (D-28, Catron, Grant, Socorro), Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-12, Bernalillo), William Soules (D-37, Dona Ana) and Cisco McSorley (D-16, Bernalillo). The House lawmakers joining this effort include Brian Egolf Jr. (D-47), Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-43), Emily Kane (D-15), Jeff Steinborn (D-35), Elizabeth “Liz” Thompson (D-24) and Jim R. Trujillo (D-45).

The letter outlines at least 14 areas of the lease award that still remain unclear, unexplained or possibly even illegal. Mourning said that an investigator with the AG’s Office gave them a clean slate two years ago, but no such word has come from the office itself. Many persons involved with the RFP process have already admitted to being interviewed by the FBI about the lease award. Neither law-enforcement agency has released any information regarding their findings.