ISPAC has just received through an IPRA request the Individual Evaluation Forms filled out by the three evaluators hand-picked by Governor Susana Martinez. The form filled out by Charles “Chuck” Gara sets off serious alarm bells about the impartiality of the bidding process.
ISPAC recently requested a criminal investigation into the possibility of bid rigging on the awarding of the Racino contract to the Downs at Albuquerque. In response, the US Attorney’s office has forwarded our request to the FBI for “appropriate action”. As we previously reported Gara, was close to Darren White giving $1500 in campaign contributions to Darren White’s congressional campaign. These Contributions were not disclosed to Laguna Development Corp., the competing bidder. White, a consultant to the Downs for the RFP, served as an advisor to Martinez during her transition, appeared in a commercial on her behalf during her campaign for governor and was appointed by Martinez to the Judicial Standards Commission.
Gara, the only evaluator who works for Susana Martinez, was hired by Martinez in February 2011 to a $91,998 position as a Division Manager II at the General Services Division. He served as the Evaluation Committee Chair on the Racino RFP. Based upon his score sheet, it appears that he really wanted to keep his job by keeping her happy.
As was just reported by ISPAC Martinez received at least $80,000 from William Windham and John Turner the majority owners of the Downs. $10,000 of which was contributed after Martinez won election to the governor’s office.
Gara gave the Downs at Albuquerque a perfect score of 300 points, the maximum allowable, for Management Expertise. Not a single point was deducted from the Down’s score despite numerous managerial issues:
- The Downs had entered into a Settlement Agreement in March 2010 with the New Mexico Racing Commission in which the Downs was placed on probation for a year for not releasing purse money for certain races.
- The New Mexico Gaming Commission substantiated over 10 complaints against the Downs for “committing an unsuitable method of operation” and for “violating board rules” that resulted in thousands of dollars in fines, including a settlement agreement signed in April 2011, just a few months prior to the RFP, that included a $5000 fine and a 2007 Settlement agreement that led to a $20,000 fine.
- Sharp criticism of the management of the Downs at Albuquerque by the New Mexico Horseman’s Association who asked the State Fair to “give pause when considering the award of a twenty five (25) year lease to the same group that has overseen the deterioration of the existing facility.”
- Serious issues raised following an audit by the Legislative Finance Committee including 1) that the State Fair has not received full payment from the Downs on its existing lease, 2) that the Downs underpaid the State by $215,000 from the revenue the Downs received from horseracing, and 3) that the Downs did not meet its obligation to spend $420,000 to market on behalf of the State Fair.
Although Gara might argue that the audit was not released until after the evaluation, the managerial issues raised in the audit were known to be a problem with the Downs management for a long time as were the issues raised by the Horseman’s Association.
There is simply no way to justify a perfect score for the Downs Managerial Expertise. The fact that Gara, who has a high paying job working for Martinez and a strong connection to Darren White, was the evaluator who gave the Downs this perfect score really lays bare that this bid was never meant to go to anyone but the Downs