In September 2011, Gov. Susana Martinez’ husband, Chuck Franco, reportedly went alligator hunting. State records show the vehicle he was in fueled up at an Allsups in Santa Fe on Sept. 5, one of 12 gas station stops made during a six-day, 2,230-mile journey through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Robert Shilling, chief of the New Mexico State Police, assigned two officers to protect Franco—himself a retired law-enforcement officer who now works as a security guard at Santa Fe’s federal courthouse.
The governor’s office has said the trip was a vacation. But taxpayers footed the $630 gas tab and paid thousands to the two state police officers to protect Franco. The officers clocked hours in overtime and holiday pay.
State law mandates that state police provide protection for the governor and her family. But the expenses officers rack up can cost taxpayers thousands each month. In September 2012, for example—a year after the hunting trip—seven state police officers billed the state thousands for various expenditures, according to the Associated Press. State records show $8,373.66 in lodging and meal expenses and $4,436.15 in mileage and fares, for a monthly total of $12,809.81. Last August, officers billed taxpayers $20,782.73 for lodging and meals alone.
For a year, the Martinez administration fought to keep records related to the trip hidden from public scrutiny. And while the administration has since released expense totals for the security detail, it still refuses to make public itemized receipts for those expenses, leaving New Mexicans in the dark about just how security officers spent taxpayer money.
SFR filed an official complaint with the office of New Mexico Attorney General Gary King last week, seeking the release of all of the security detail’s itemized receipts from the trip. King’s office is responsible for enforcing the state’s public-records law. A Democrat, he’s also planning to challenge the Republican Martinez for governor in 2014.
The public-records battle began in spring 2012, when Martinez’ political foes, the liberal group Independent Source PAC, asked for leave requests, vacation requests and timesheets made by the two state police officers during the period of the alligator-hunting trip. The Martinez administration denied that request, saying the governor and her family’s “security interests” and “right to be free from physical harm” exempted them from disclosure.
In December, King determined that the denial “was invalid” and that the records should be released. King’s letter reveals that the Martinez administration had been less than cooperative: “Repeated efforts by this Office over multiple months to seek information from [DPS] regarding the denial have gone entirely unanswered.”
SFR was one of several media outlets that requested similar records. After a roughly three-month delay, the Department of Public Safety gave SFR the two State Police officers’ names, their timesheets and detailed gas-station receipts from the trip. SFR then asked for detailed receipts of all expenditures made using taxpayer-financed procurement cards—including for meals, food, lodging and entertainment. After another seven weeks, the Department of Finance and Administration denied that request, citing security concerns.
The agency didn’t cite any New Mexico law, instead pointing to a Texas Supreme Court opinion that, in 2011, ruled in Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s favor after media outlets sued his administration for refusing to release his security detail’s expense records. The opinion states that Texas’ Department of Public Safety “is likely correct” in that disclosing “some” of the information contained in the gubernatorial security detail’s travel vouchers “may create a substantial threat of physical harm because it reveals specific details about the number of officers assigned to protect the governor, their general location in relation to him, and their dates of travel.”
“Attorneys cite case law from other states routinely,” Tim Korte, records custodian and spokesman for DFA, says, when asked about citing a Texas ruling to deny a New Mexico records request. “DFA’s response to the IPRA request is consistent with Administration policy and guidance from the Chief of the New Mexico State Police,” he adds in an email.
But the Martinez administration has already released detailed gas receipts that include dates and locations of fueling stations, as well as “specific details” about the security officers protecting Franco.
One of them is Ruben Maynes, whose wife Donna was hired for a $55,000 executive assistant position in the governor’s office in February 2012. The other is Frank Chavez.
Paradoxically, as the Martinez administration continues to withhold records, media outlets grow more curious. Last week, governor’s office spokesman Enrique Knell responded to the Santa Fe New Mexican’s questions about whether Franco’s accommodations were paid for by an outside party—which, if the party were a state contractor, would be subject to limits under the Gift Act. Knell said Franco and the patrolmen were “privately hosted” and that “security stayed where the First Gentleman stayed and meals were included.”
Nevertheless, Korte tells SFR that taxpayers were billed $123.94 for meal expenses between Sept. 5-12, 2011. “It was a personal trip that had nothing to do with state business or state politics,” Knell told the New Mexican.
Franco, when approached by SFR at the federal courthouse, declined to comment for this article. Another security officer said SFR cannot ask him questions while he’s on duty. Franco referred SFR to Knell, who has not returned repeated voicemails and emails.