Win, lose or draw, current Bernalillo County Sheriff and Albuquerque mayoral candidate Manuel “Manny” Gonzales will have to face possible legal consequences of voter fraud and impropriety. These accusations and subsequent guilty findings and fines aren’t small. If found guilty, what Gonzales is accused of are fourth-degree felonies.
But He’s The Sheriff?
The allegations of fraud and forgery came about last summer when the Albuquerque City Clerk rejected Gonzales’ application for public campaign financing. A lot of forged signatures and donations were discovered. Candidates can get taxpayer-funded money by proving they have collected enough signatures to show community support. Along with a real signature, they have to get $5 from each signer. When there is cash involved, receipts with voter signatures are collected as well. The prize for all those signatures is over $660,000 in taxpayer funding to run a campaign for mayor.
Tim Keller’s campaign raised the red flag when it submitted 40 statements from voters saying their signatures were forged on Gonzales’ documents and that they were told they did not need to pay the $5. After reviewing all the documents, City Attorney Esteban A. Aguilar Jr. sent a letter on Oct. 12 to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez with a thorough timeline. Aguilar said the City Attorney’s Office lacks the prosecutorial ability to investigate or file charges, so he was sending the Attorney General’s Office the allegations and documentation for review.
In addition Aguilar sent a letter to State Auditor Brian Colon saying that, after an independent investigation done by the Office of Inspector General, it was concluded that about 10 percent of signatures on Gonzales’ qualifying campaign contribution paperwork were forged—including dozens of voter signatures by key members of his campaign.
The letter says, of the 23 instances where individuals said they did not sign the qualifying contribution form or pay the $5, 15 said they did sign the receipt but did not pay the $5 and five people said they signed the receipt but can not remember if they paid the $5.
Gonzales came out swinging with appeals, court filings and hearings. Gonzales’ campaign folks have said some of the allegations are a sham and the city clerk was biased. The city clerk is appointed by the mayor with the confirmation of the City Council. As we reported in July, Gonzales’ campaign peeps admitted that the campaign turned in some forged signatures on the qualifying paperwork. Gonzales said he did not know about it—that it was the fault of his campaign staff. To boot, the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices ruled that Gonzales had violated the city’s Open and Ethical Elections Code. Those are the rules that govern the city’s public financing program. The campaign got fined about $2,000 for those boo-boos.
Winner or Loser
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez said his office will wait until after the election to launch a full criminal investigation of fraud and campaign impropriety done by those gathering signatures for the lawman who wants to be mayor. The investigation would be done by the New Mexico State Police.
If Gonzales loses, then he will face the allegations and any subsequent charges as a sitting sheriff. If he wins, then he will face the mess as the mayor-elect. Either way it doesn’t bode well for Gonzales, as pending charges would cast a long shadow and possibly taint his ability to do either job, both of which require a high level of integrity.