Battling Over Jail Contracts

By 2010 Jeff Proctor
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Carlos Villanueva was brought from the Bernalillo County Public Works Department to the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2009 and was assigned to review big-ticket contracts for medical, food and laundry services at the massive lockup. 

His findings, which the county disputes: millions of dollars of overcharges in the form of discrepancies between amounts on invoices and how much the county paid.

I know where the money went,” he said in an interview with the Journal. “I just don’t know why.”

Villanueva said he reported his findings to top county officials in a series of meetings in October 2009, and says all three — County Manager Thaddeus Lucero, Deputy County Manager for Public Safety John Dantis and MDC director Ron Torres — promised to look into it. 

The county later hired outside firms to audit the two contracts Villanueva had reviewed. The chairwoman of the county’s Internal Audit Committee confirmed that one of the audits had found discrepancies; the other is not yet completed.

Villanueva said auditors met with him Friday to discuss his findings on the medical services contract.

If Villanueva was hoping for a commendation from the county for his report, he didn’t get it.

Less than two weeks after his meetings with county brass, he was demoted to the mailroom — where he kept his $52,000 salary despite having what he says were “no discernible duties” — and his access was pulled from most county computer systems.

He was told he would report directly to Torres, who sent him the e-mail advising him of his reassignment. On April 16, Villanueva says, he was fired. 

Among the claims pointed out in Villanueva’s reviews:

• A discrepancy showed the county paid CMS $2,906,544 more than was listed on the invoices from Sept. 23, 2008, to Aug. 19, 2009.
• A $94,793 difference in the monthly charges CMS should have been paid under the contract and was actually being paid starting in August 2009. 

• County taxpayers were being charged 6.88 percent tax on consumables for inmates at the jail instead of the state-mandated rate of 6.875 percent. “No one is allowed to change the tax rate by rounding up,” Villanueva wrote in his review. Moreover, he claimed the jail was charging inmates a further tax on consumables, contrary to state law. The overcharge paid to Canteen was about $1.3 million. 

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