ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Bernalillo County’s chief deputy treasurer points to a wall full of awards as evidence of his contributions to the department during the last nine years.
However, take a look at Fidel Bernal’s personal finances and the picture becomes far different.
“If you ignore it, it’s not going to go away,” said New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla. “The problem’s just going to get worse.”
And that is what has happened to Bernal over the last 23 years, according to state and Bernalillo County records.
Since 1990, dozens of liens have been filed against Bernal’s property, including one federal lien from the IRS. Just since 2001, four state liens have been filed against his property because he didn’t pay his business taxes on time, according to records.
Those four liens – filed against an office building Bernal owns and runs his accounting business out of – have totaled $14,000.
“I have taken care of all of them,” Bernal told News 13. “I’m in good standing with the state.”
Well, not exactly.
Current Tax and Revenue Department records indicate that Bernal has paid two of the liens and still owes the state a little more than $4,000. Also, in March, the City of Albuquerque placed a $400 lien on the property because Bernal didn’t pay his water, sewer and trash bill, according to city records.
Bernal, who helps the county account for about $555 million collected from 300,000 people and businesses, said he didn’t even know about the water bill lien.
“During the course of business, you have your ups and downs,” he said.
The Tax and Rev Department doesn’t just slap liens on your property if you miss one bill, Secretary Padilla said.
“We’ll send out letters and we’ll say, ‘Come on, pay us, pay us, pay us, pay us, pay us,’ ” she said.
Liens are filed only after a taxpayer ignores a year of tax bills and a final warning that a lien is about to be filed. In other words, they’re a last resort, Padilla said.
Bernal said his top focus is managing taxpayers’ money.
“We’re kind of like the shoe cobbler,” he said. “We’re the last ones to take care of ourselves.”
He offered up other reasons for falling behind on his bills, including health problems and clients who stiffed him on their bills.
“If you can’t manage your budget at home, what’s to say you can do it here?” News 13 asked Bernal. “They’re not really money problems. They’re just something that happened.”
Bernalillo County Treasurer Manny Ortiz, Bernal’s boss, said he was surprised to learn of the liens, but said Bernal does a good job.
“I’m very comfortable with Mr. Bernal and I plan to keep him as long as I’m here,” Ortiz said.
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