The Dirty Downs Deal One Year Later

Just over a year ago, the Downs at Albuquerque and Laguna Development Corp. submitted their responses to an RFP issued by the Martinez’ administration. 

As emails (see below) obtained by ISPAC reveal, the outcome of that procurement process was determined well beforehand.. The Martinez administration and the Downs acted as one. The pretense of the procurement process served only as an effort to provide cover for what few people, once educated with the facts, can doubt was a done deal.

‘Blatant’ seems to be the word most often heard regarding this deal.  Despite representations of transparency, the administration continues to conceal its actions from the public. Why are they being so secretive if everything really was on the up and up?

To what extent was Governor Susana Martinez was involved in this rigged process?

Emails and other information shows that her chief of staff, Keith Gardner, deputy chief of staff, Ryan Cangiolosi, state fair manager, Dan Mourning, and other state employees were involved. 

They coordinated their actions with Martinez’s key advisor, Jay McCleskey, GOP attorney Pat Rogers, and Darren White.

The relationships between these folks are the key to understanding why the Downs deal was  never meant be anything but a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps Martinez  accepted everything she was told at face value, and was therefore not culpable. But there were several times  she could have stepped in and shut the process down. She did not. Instead, she sealed the deal. 

Plus, Martinez bears full responsibility for the actions of her employees. They are the highest-ranking members in her administration, not some low level individuals with no direct oversight by the governor.

Laguna Development was not the only loser in the process. The taxpayers were too. Tens of millions of dollars that should have gone to the state were lost as part of this deal.

New Mexico’s legal community has begun to wake up to the realities of this fact. Interest in a fraud against taxpayer act lawsuit is gaining traction. 

Governor Martinez and high ranking members of her administration have publicly made several claims regarding the damaging emails:  They were no longer using these email addresses when the damaging emails were sent; The email account was hacked; The emails in question were somehow intercepted  keeping them from reaching their intended readers.  

…pants on fire.

ISPAC is in possession of other emails that clearly show these email accounts were indeed active at the time. Those emails will be released to the public in due time. It should be noted that not one claim has been made to refute the damaging content of the emails.

It is also known that high-ranking Martinez administration officials intentionally avoided using emails to communicate, preferring old school methods to keep the damaging information from getting out.

The administration has fallen silent on the fact that Jay McCleskey received all such emails McCleskey has relationships with the governor, her staff, and the Downs folks that are unique.   McCleskey is the focal point of the Downs deal- despite the fact that supposedly he neither works for the state nor for the Downs. His actual employment is somewhat less clear-cut than it appears.

On paper, there are three owners of the Downs: William Windham, John Turner (both of Louisiana), and Paul Blanchard. Money from the two Louisiana owners flowed freely to Martinez’s campaign account and her political action committee,—-arriving at times that could help to influence the process.  McCleskey runs both entities.

Traci Wolfe, vice president of the Downs, is an attorney and owner of Defined Fitness She appears to have more to do with the day-to-day operations of the Downs than the three owners. Wolfe also contributed heavily to Martinez under the last name of Moore.

Jay McCleskey has significant ties to Wolfe, having provided services to her through Defined Fitness. His ties actually go well beyond just Wolfe.

Ryan Cangiolosi was McCleskey’s right hand man during Martinez’s gubernatorial campaign. Darren White is one of McCleskey’s closest friends. White appeared in a commercial for Martinez’s campaign, done by McCleskey, along with Dana Khouri. Khouri has apparently just signed on as White’s number two person at the Downs. 

McCleskey in turn is also quite close to Pat Rogers, attorney for the Downs. At one time national Republicans sought out McCleskey’s  to try toconvince Rogers to become the US Attorney for New Mexico after Rogers helped knock out then US Attorney David Iglesias.

McCleskey also has a highly unusual relationship with the government. One part right-hand man, one part advisor, one part henchman, one part political advisor, one part Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle, one part Rasputin and one part Svengali. 

McCleskey’s connections stretch even deeper. 

In early August of 2011, Dan Mourning met twice with Tom Tinnin– and asked him to “chair and organize a review committee of the downs RFPs.” (Tinnin is one of the good government Republicans who famously refused to be cowed by Martinez standing behind her high backed chair (link to article) —when she threatened him for raising concerns about the Downs deal)

On August 12, 2011, Tinnin’s assistant emailed Mourning a list of names and their contact information. According to Tinnin, the people on the list formed a “good group with lots of institutional knowledge.”

Yet later, these evaluators were replaced by people with no institutional knowledge. And not surprisingly, the key person in this group, Charles Gara, had extensive ties to McCleskey.

Gara along with the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, run by Terri Cole, and other groups, formed “Citizens for Greater Albuquerque” to defeat city councilors they viewed as hostile to their agenda. Gara hired Jay McCleskey and paid him $24,000 to run a brief targeted campaign against sitting city councilors.

According to news articles, McCleskey ran one of the nastiest campaigns in the city’s history, especially in his targeting of Brad Winter, whom McCleskey and Gara falsely accused of being involved in actions on the council that took place before Winter, another good government Republican, was even on the council.

Not only was McCleskey close to Gara, but McCleskey knew that Gara was voted off of the planned growth strategy task force after allegations surfaced that he had joined it for the sole purposing of sabotaging its work to benefit the contributors to Citizens for a Greater Albuquerque.

Gara ensured the Downs won the bid by giving the Downs a perfect maximum score for “managerial expertise”. The Downs,however, has an extensive list of managerial problems, including being placed on probation by regulatory bodies and having no general manager identified in its RFP. The GM position was later given to Darren White despite the fact that he has no gaming operations experience.

Without Gara’s  perfect score, the Downs bid would have gone down in flames. As is was, the Downs beat Laguna’s bid by only 15 points out of 1000. 

McCleskey’s connections also came to the rescue when it appeared that the state fair commission was ready to vote down the Downs’ contract.

McCleskey’s chief fundraiser for Susana PAC was Andrea Goff. Her father-in-law and business partner, Buster Goff, was appointed to the state fair commission. Buster  initially opposed the contract. Yet somehow, he was allowed to suggest changes to the contract after Dan Mourning had announced that there would be no more changes. No other commissioner was allowed this privilege. As a result, Buster changed his vote.  Had he not, the contract would have been voted down and the RFP process would have started all over again.

McCleskey also appears to have gotten Darren White a lucrative contract with the Downs as a “consultant” during the RFP, and Dan Mourning his job as state fair manager. How do we know this?

White was hired by the Downs on August 12th. On that same day, the Democratic Party issued a press release accusing the Martinez administration of corruption in Mourning’s hiring as the manager of the state fair and of White’s hiring as the consultant with the Downs.

Pat Rogers forwarded the Dems accusation to Jay McCleskey, Keith Gardner, Ryan Cangiolosi, and Scott Darnell,  and wrote, “I read that Jay McCleskey is responsible for this evidence of corruption.”

There is no  reference to McCleskey at all in the Dems press release on this corruption. Rogers was clearly sharing an inside joke. Prosecutors might refer to this as an admission against penal interest.

Rogers also indicated that McCleskey was working on behalf of the Downs in another email, just a few weeks later on September 1, 2011.

Rogers wrote l to McCleskey and Cangiolosi, “you should be informed of Mr. McCluskey’s kissing Brunt’s  posterior and his continual participation in the erosion of the executive’s branches’ authority and majesty. My position is that Hossie needs to run everything.”

Brunt is Charles Brunt, reporter for the Albuquerque Journal covering Downs procurement process.

Hossie Sanchez is a state fair commissioner who supported the Downs’ efforts to win the contract.

Both of these emails came after the RFP was issued but before the evaluators evaluated the responses. By definition this is during the procurement time.

Clearly Rogers does not view the Martinez administration as being separate from the Downs. Clearly they were acting as one. Again, there was no doubt as to how this deal would turn out.

Still, the administration claims that everything they did was perfectly legal and above-board. Martinez even promised to publish all of the documents for the entire procurement process online. To date that has not happened nor is it likely to happen.

Martinez, who once told reporters that having to wait 15 days is too long for her administration to produce public records, is now refusing to produce public records pertaining to the Downs deal.

ISPAC has now filed two separate complaints with the State Attorney Generals’ office. One is regarding  a hunting trip to Louisiana that first gentleman Chuck Franco took in September 2011., He used a a state vehicle and was accompanied by two state police officers serving on the governor’s security detail.

We asked for records of his accommodations during his hunting trip and the itinerery of where he hunted. Martinez has refused to provide the records.

Why is this important? Windham and Turner own lots of land in Louisiana, including an 800 acre horse farm—Moon Lake Farms—in Elm Grove, LA. Elm Grove is known for outstanding deer and water fowl hunting. If the first gentleman’s trip had anything to do with either Windham or Turner,, Martinez, as the decider of the contract, could be guilty of interstate bribery.

We have also requested all communications, including, private email accounts, of members of the Martinez administration with members of the Downs team and with the evaluators, including Gara.

After waiting over 70 days without receiving a single record,we filed with the Attorney General. 

The Martinez administration is acting like they have something to hide.

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