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Audit hits pro-Los Alamos agency on booze, food spending

August 8, 2018

In this May 15, 2018, photo, Andrea Romero, a candidate for House District 46, takes part in a Democratic primary candidate forum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The New Mexico state auditor says an agency of New Mexico municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory approved improper reimbursement for alcohol and baseball tickets. The audit released Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, hits former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director Andrea Romero over reimbursements as she seeks to win a seat in New Mexico's House of Representatives. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An agency of New Mexico municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory approved improper reimbursement for alcohol, food, travel and baseball tickets, the New Mexico state auditor announced Tuesday.

The released audit especially hits Andrea Romero, former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director, over unlawful reimbursements and found a lack of adequate documentation to support many expenditures “in violation of the published travel policy and state law.”

The scathing audit comes as Romero is seeking to win a seat in New Mexico’s House of Representatives after defeating Rep. Carl Trujillo in the Democratic primary in June. Trujillo is facing allegations of sexual harassment.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson released the final report of a special audit after allegations surfaced of misspent public money by the government coalition also known as RCLC. He said the governing board of the group has conceded to yearly audits overseen by the Office of the State Auditor following his report.

“One of my top priorities is to bring public bodies into full compliance with regular audits that provide full transparency of public expenditures,” Johnson said. “The RCLC is just one example of a state agency that has been ignored over the years by the state auditor’s office.”

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is an agency made of nine northern New Mexico cities, counties and pueblos surrounding the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. The group promotes the economy in connection with the lab and contracts associated with lab work.

Among the travel policy and state law violations, the audit found that Romero was improperly reimbursed $286.78 for a meal at the Bull Ring Restaurant in Santa Fe that included ten alcoholic beverages and $10.81 for a mirror at Ross Dress for Less.

The report also said the spending was “potential non-compliance with the Department of Energy Grant Award with regard to explicitly prohibited lobbying” and could result in the agency having to pay back around $372,000.

For months, Romero had faced criticism for recent spending that included expensive gatherings where alcohol was purchased.

A separate audit found Romero as executive director spent $1,850 on a dinner in Washington, D.C., $307 for a dozen Major League Baseball tickets and at other events where alcohol was paid for. Those findings also were in Tuesday’s state auditor’s report.

The coalition’s travel policies prohibit alcohol as an allowable expense, but the audit says Romero was reimbursed $1,850 by Los Alamos County for an invoice that included alcohol.

“I welcome the findings of the audit, which confirms what was already known — that there were errors made by me, RCLC Boardmembers, and Los Alamos County concerning the reimbursements in question,” Romero said in a statement Tuesday. “I did not knowingly or deliberately violate any standard for reimbursement.

“When my errors were brought to my attention, I made immediate repayment. Although I no longer work for the Coalition, I hope they use these findings to improve how the Coalition handles travel and reimbursement procedures. If the audit finds additional inadvertent errors, I will be happy to work with the Coalition and its board to correct them,” Romero added.

Romero has said questions around her spending were politically motivated. A group tied to Trujillo, whom Romero defeated in June, filed an open records request on the agency’s spending.

She said the group had never shown any interest in the coalition or its business until she announced her candidacy.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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