ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A playing field turns into a battleground. The City of Albuquerque is accused of misusing nearly a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money.

KRQE 13’s Larry Barker first uncovered the city’s questionable spending on artificial turf for the Duke City Gladiators last November.

Now, the Inspector General (IG) finds that the purchase violated the state constitution.

Artificial turf for a privately owned indoor football team was paid for with Albuquerque taxpayer money and is now sitting in Rio Rancho.

“That money should be spent for Albuquerque taxpayers within the Albuquerque city limits or at an Albuquerque facility,” said Louie Sanchez, a city councilor.

Albuquerque city councilors expressed concern that the Duke City Gladiators play at the Rio Rancho Events Center. This means that city-funded artificial turf is being used outside the city.

However, an even bigger problem, according to the city’s Inspector General, is that state spending rules were violated by buying the turf in the first place.

It started back in 2021. That’s when state lawmakers appropriated $160 thousand for artificial turf in parks and other recreational facilities within the City of Albuquerque.

Instead, the city spent nearly $240,000 on the turf now serving the Gladiators. It was installed at the Rio Rancho Events Center and emblazoned with the team’s logo. When the city asked for reimbursement, the state denied it. State finance officials ruled the appropriation was not legal because public money cannot be used for the benefit of a private business.

For that reason, the city’s IG found it violated the state’s anti-donation clause and was a misuse of taxpayer dollars.

The IG also concluded officials failed to make sure the purchase was cost-effective and benefited the citizens of Albuquerque.

A Parks and Recreation Department employee told investigators there was pressure from high up in the city administration to push that purchase through.

City councilors spoke to Larry Barker about the decision.

Larry Barker: Does it appear that these transactions were by the book?

ABQ Councilor Brook Bassan: No. No, not at all. I think that there’s nothing by the book about this. As councilors, as a mayor, as public servants to the city of Albuquerque, we are under obligation and law to make sure that we don’t break the anti-donation clause, and this clearly does that.

City administrators claimed the people of Albuquerque still benefit from that turf because the facility hosts youth activities, but the IG found that was not enough to make the purchase above board, and recommended the city try to recoup the misspent money from the Gladiators and the events center.

The Attorney General’s Office is now reviewing that report.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Finance sent a statement Friday night, calling the IG report misinformed.

The cursory OIG report was misinformed. Under their logic, CABQ could not buy a track for the Lobos, netting for the Isotopes, or turf for the United; all of which we have done for years. This is a City-owned resource sponsored by Albuquerque legislators. It was not a gift to a team and the City Attorney agrees it is not a violation of the anti-donation clause.  We are more than willing to work with the OIG to update their findings.

CABQ Department of Finance and Administrative Services