ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The sexual harassment complaint alone might have been enough to get Phillip Romo fired.
In July, private investigators hired by the city of Albuquerque found sexually explicit text messages between the engineering division manager at the Department of Municipal Development and a woman he supervised. The pair discussed sex acts. They discussed the stress-relieving value of grabbing breasts. They shared pictures that joked about oral sex. For the subordinate, and eventually the city, it was too much.
When investigators pried into Romo’s city-issued cell phone, though, they found he had also been sending explicit messages to a woman named Henny Madison. Perhaps. The person at the other end of the messages claimed to be an Australian living in Paris. Somehow, investigators believe, she had convinced Romo to send her $1,200 to $1,500 each month. The relationship had all the hallmarks of a romance scheme, where crooks pose as a love interest with the ultimate goal of gaining access to cash.
Phillip Romo did well as a division manager. He would have earned six figures last year. But investigators think he needed a loan to finance his foreign love interest, and he chose a city contractor to act as his bank.
The story that unraveled last summer culminated for Romo when the city fired him in December. But the city’s new inspector general is now considering whether the ease with which a city employee was able to extract a loan from a city contractor was criminal, and if Romo’s actions call for tighter rules and more robust oversight of city contracts.
At the city, Romo had the ability to dole out payments for the contractor, road services company IPR, Ltd. In text messages investigators found on his city cell phone, he told the company’s owner, Mike Daniels, that he needed almost $10,000 for work on a well. Daniels responded that he could lend part of the money immediately, but would need to get paid to send the rest of it. Investigators think Romo made it happen.
IPR has four active contracts with the city. Documents provided to KRQE News 13 through an Inspection of Public Records Act request show city officials stopped issuing work orders on one of those contracts last fall. A department spokeswoman said another contract for specific road projects had already been completed.READ CONTRACTS:
- Microsurfacing >>
- Asphalt Concrete Patch Material 1 >>
- Asphalt Concrete Patch Material 2 >>
- Slurry Seal >>
The city would not comment further on its relationship with IPR and indicated officials are waiting for the inspector general’s decision on whether to investigate before determining if the contractor should face any sanctions.
City Councilor Pat Davis said the case presents Albuquerque with a chance to show the city is serious about ethics reform. Albuquerque recently enacted new guidelines for the inspector general.
“The sexual harassment is concerning enough by itself,” Davis said, “but this reveals much bigger issues about a systemic, potential systemic, problem in the way we oversee our contractors.”
Davis said the city is clear with its employees that they’re not allowed to ask for loans from contractors doing business with Albuquerque, but added those companies should know that blowing the whistle on such behavior won’t mean they get aced out of future city work.
“If they see something wrong, they have to know that the city’s willing to step up and be serious about it,” he said.
It didn’t take investigators long to figure out something serious was going on. They took Phillip Romo’s phone in early July. Within a few weeks, they’d found the relationship with Henny Madison and the texts with Mike Daniels about a loan. City officials locked his office, took his keys and placed Romo on paid administrative leave.
By the end of the month, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry had asked the inspector general, David Harper, to look into the relationship between Romo and Daniels.
In early September, city officials were fully briefed on the investigation. It took six weeks to issue a Notice of Pre-Determination Hearing to Romo, who was still collecting a paycheck. The city fired him six weeks after that; a timeline that reflected complexity and caution, the city said.
While he didn’t work a full year, Phillip Romo was one of the city’s highest-paid employees in 2016, earning $98,343.28.