State Auditor Wayne Johnson
SANTA FE ― State Auditor Wayne Johnson has initiated a special investigation to determine if thousands of tax dollars recently given to Village of Tijeras employees were paid in compliance with all state and local laws and regulations.
Johnson says there’s reason to believe the payments were improper or miscalculated, were done outside of normal accounting methods, and skirted standard internal controls for a municipality like Tijeras.
The refunds appear to have been issued without anybody but the Mayor and the Village Interim Deputy Clerk knowing about them, which raises questions about other expenditures as well.
At the beginning of 2018, the Village wrote checks to thirteen current village employees including the Mayor and interim village clerk totaling $64,423. The checks are supposedly a reimbursement for “overpayments” for retirement benefits going back more than a decade. Village council members, who only recently found out about the nearly $65,000 disbursement, have questioned the propriety of these payments.
“The key question here is whether the mayor’s actions violated state law,” Johnson said. “We’re going to take a close look at whether these payments were appropriate and lawful, and if not, we’ll hold people accountable. These state laws are in place for a good reason: to protect public funds.”
The Auditor’s office said that based upon the allegations there could be violations of the Governmental Conduct Act, which prohibits public officials from taking actions for personal financial gain. Mayor Gloria Chavez and Interim Deputy Clerk Diana Klaus appear to have received checks for $8,707 and $10,752 respectively. Both officials also appear to have signed checks for the other employees who received refunds. There are questions about who signed the checks to Chavez and Klaus. Combined, the mayor and clerk received 30% of the total payout.
Johnson says there are several issues his office will examine, including whether the payments were appropriate to begin with and what approval process, if any, was followed to issue the checks. The OSA will review if the calculated amounts were correct, and Johnson is also concerned that payroll taxes were not withheld from checks that were essentially salary payments. If so, employees may be subject to a large tax bill when they complete their 2018 taxes next year. The Village may also be liable for various payroll taxes that are the responsibility of employers.