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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Bernalillo County Sheriff and mayoral hopeful Manny Gonzales’ miraculous recovery in the days leading up to the June 19 deadline for public financing didn’t seem to add up to the folks running Tim Keller’s campaign. Gonzales was 1,237 campaign contributions short of the 3,779 required to qualify for public financing with only a week to go before the deadline. Days after his campaign submitted the necessary number of campaign contributions, accusations of fraud and forgery started to trickle in. Now it has become a roar. The Keller campaign since filed an ethics complaint with the city clerk who is charged by law with certifying compliance with public financing laws. On Friday, June 10, the city clerk denied Gonzales public funding, citing complaints of ethics violations and sufficient evidence of fraud.

An investigation conducted by Keller’s reelection campaign found at least 149 examples of forgery. The investigation also found 40 voters that the Gonzales campaign submitted to the City Clerk’s office who said they never signed a campaign contribution for Manny Gonzales. 

Each of those signatures is associated with a $5 contribution Gonzales swore he or his team personally collected from the voter. So how, exactly, did the sheriff and his team get a $5 bill from people they never contacted in person? Gonzales has not provided an answer.

Names Copied From Other Petitions To Law Enforcement?

“We did not sign a petition for Manny Gonzales’ campaign,” Ruth Mueller told investigators in a written statement.

Of the hundreds of questionable circumstances reviewed by The Paper., one stood out.

Mueller was one of 40 voters whose signatures were used for Gonzales’s campaign in their attempt to qualify for public funding. “I am guessing our names were cut and pasted plus my husband’s signature,” she added. Those names, she suspects, were cut/paste from a different signature she signed during a neighborhood potluck unrelated to the mayor’s race.

“I signed a form (petition) at a potluck. It was presented to the group by Michael and Ruby Jacobs. They explained that it was a petition to get a citizens grand jury for a theft they had experienced. They presented a blank sheet (a sheet with no petition signatures) and eight of us signed it. We did not sign a petition for Manny Gonzles’ campaign and the petition I was shown was my signature but the names above us were not all the names of others at the potluck so I am guessing our names were cut and pasted plus my husband’s signature is listed as #9 and I clearly remember there were only 8 signatures. We live in Bernalillo County and are outside the city limits so we would not have signed a mayoral petition.” Ruth Mueller

Mueller’s frustration upon discovering that her signature was forged is not an isolated case. Others have decried Gonzales’ campaign for fraudulently using their signatures on $5 campaign contributions.

“The signatures on the petition and voter registration are mine. The signature on the $5 contribution is not mine and I did not give the $5,” Ruth Reichert said in an official statement.

The investigation also uncovered that one of the signatures collected and accompanying $5 campaign donation came from 94-year-old Dorothy L. Wright. Dorothy’s daughter, Jan Wright, claimed that it was not possible for her mother to have signed a qualifying contribution receipt for the campaign because on May 25, 2021, Dorothy was hospitalized and under her care. The receipt states that Dorothy signed on June 1, which her daughter also denies. Jan also denies that her mother contributed to Gonzales’ campaign.

After discovering her mother’s signature was used for the Gonzales campaign, Jan showed her mother images of her signature on the May 22, 2021 petition and the June 1 campaign contribution form. Dorothy confirms that she signed the May 22 petition but denies signing the June 1 receipt or contributing any money to the Gonzales campaign. “The signature on June 1, 2021 Qualifying Contribution receipt is not my mother’s signature. The signature that appears on the May 22, 2021 petition is a valid signature,” Jan Wright said. In addition, it appears that the alleged forged signature does not spell Dorothy’s name correctly.

On Monday, the Gonzales campaign appealed City Clerk Ethan Watson’s decision to deny the campaign public financing. A hearing officer will review the appeal this Friday.

The Paper. reached out to the Gonzales campaign for comment but has not heard back as of press time.

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