NM Auditor probes Torrance Co. contracts

Posted at: 07/13/2012 11:35 AM
Updated at: 07/13/2012 2:38 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, 4 On Your Side

State Auditor Hector Balderas expects to have a full report by August regarding allegations of contract rigging in Torrance County contracts.

In April the KOB 4 On Your Side team exposed that contractor Chris Valdez received nearly $750,000 in contracts for various county construction projects.

But County Commissioner Venessa Chavez Gutierrez suspected some of those contracts may have been rigged in order for Valdez to obtain them.

And to the dismay of her fellow commissioners, Chavez Gutierrez requested Balderas look into the matter. Her actions even resulted in at least one fellow commissioner requesting she step down from her position as Commission chair.

There is also speculation that Torrance County Manager Joy Ansley may have had an inappropriate relationship with Valdez, but when asked about the rumor, she denied it.

Once KOB 4 On Your Side began probing the issue, we obtained an audio tape with threatening remarks by Valdez to Chavez Gutierrez’s husband.

Balderas said his office was alarmed at first by the threats and resistance from Torrance County for his office to look into the contracts.

“We're seeing there is a culture to intimidate the free flow of information," Balderas said in an interview with KOB 4 On Your Side Tuesday.

Balderas said only after he warned county elected officials and attorneys that resisting an official state audit is unlawful, they started to comply.

"We're seeing changing behavior as (they) get more educated, but any type of resistance to whistleblowers is very concerning to me," Balderas said.

He said the field work and investigation should wrap-up in the next two weeks with a full report to follow in August.