SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was a seemingly routine transaction hidden away in the state checking account. April 24, 2015, the New Mexico Treasury issued a $200,000 check to an Albuquerque law firm. What was it for? That was a big fat, expensive secret.
The huge cash disbursement was part of a confidential deal orchestrated by high-level government officials during the Martinez administration. Because details of the six-figure payout were so politically explosive, attorneys agreed to keep the agreement under wraps until the end of Governor Martinez’s term in office.
Even today, four years later, the clandestine transaction is still shrouded in mystery. Following a KRQE News 13 public records request New Mexico’s Risk Management Division produced a file relating to the covert payment. Documents show, after a state employee named Ruben Maynes alleged to be the victim of workplace wrongdoing, he was paid $200,000 to settle his claim.
But the Maynes case was not by the book. In fact, as settlements go this one was unprecedented. Unlike other risk management cases, government officials handed Ruben Maynes hundreds of thousands of dollars even though he hadn’t alleged any specific misdeed or injustice.
“I would say it’s unusual,” says current General Services Cabinet Secretary Ken Ortiz. Ortiz reviewed the 2015 Maynes settlement file from the prior administration.
“Typically a complaint has allegations with specifics. Any type of allegations should have the specifics in order for the State to investigate … and make a determination of how to best approach this case with the ultimate goal of settling or disposing of this case at the lowest cost to the taxpayers of New Mexico,” Secretary Ortiz said.
So who is Ruben Maynes and why did state officials secretly pay him a ton of money? That’s the $200,000 question.
Ruben Maynes was a State Police officer assigned to Governor Martinez’s Security Detail. But his tenure there was not without controversy.
Court documents show Ruben Maynes was a gambler. One fellow officer claims Maynes racked up huge gambling debts, even borrowing money from other officers. Then State Police Chief Pete Kassetas warned Maynes not to gamble while on duty.
In July 2014, Agent Maynes worked security for a Governor Martinez event at the Route 66 Hotel Casino. A fellow officer later accused Maynes of gambling on duty at the casino in violation of State Police directives.
Casino security cameras captured Maynes in the hotel elevator heading towards the casino shortly before 1:00 a.m. He spent hours wandering the gaming floor, playing slot machines and gambling at blackjack tables. Maynes headed back to his hotel room about 5:45 a.m.
Days later, Chief Kassetas advised Maynes that his gambling activities appeared to violate the Chief’s directive. Agent Maynes was removed from the Governor’s Security Detail and reassigned to patrol duties. He was informed the department would open an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident.
In February 2015 Governor Martinez was notified that Maynes planned “legal action.” The notification came in a February 26, 2015 letter from Albuquerque attorney Sam Bregman who said he was representing Ruben Maynes. Bregman wrote, “We are in the process of investigating claims that Mr. Maynes has against the Governor and New Mexico State Police for whistleblowing, harassment, and retaliation.” Bregman did not provide any details or specific allegation of wrongdoing.
On April 23, 2015, Risk Management Director A. J. Forte sent a memo about the Maynes claim to Governor Martinez’s Chief of Staff Keith Gardner.
“I understand your strong beliefs that Maynes’ claims are completely without merit and that the State would ultimately prevail at trial. Based on our investigation of the matter to this point, and the fact that numerous potential witnesses would strongly contradict Maynes’ claims, I wholeheartedly agree with you that the assertions being made by Maynes are bogus and would likely be proven false in the end,” Forte wrote.
Forte added, “Given our experience in these types of cases, we reasonably anticipate that the cost of defense in this matter over the course of two years of discovery and a lengthy trial will be in the area of $1 million, if not more… I have already had conversations with (Sam Bregman) about potential settlement and have been successful, in my opinion, in exposing the numerous flaws and untruths in Maynes’ claims.”
Even though Ruben Maynes’ claim was deemed “completely without merit” on April 23, the State Police Agent was handed a check for $200,000 on April 24.
There are no documents in the Risk Management Settlement file released to KRQE News 13 indicating Risk Management staff investigated or verified Maynes’ vague claims of harassment and retaliation. Ruben Maynes resigned from the State Police in October 2015.
If the Maynes claim was bogus, why did Risk Management hand him a big check?
KRQE News 13 has learned Ruben Maynes had a secret bargaining chip in his back pocket. Confidential sources say the former State Police Agent claimed to have explicit text messages on his cell phone, he said, were sent to him by Governor Martinez. According to sources with first-hand knowledge of the case, Maynes’ claim of having potentially embarrassing information about the Governor was a factor in the closed-door settlement negotiations.
In a phone conversation with KRQE News 13, Maynes attorney, Sam Bregman, declined comment on the case.
From his home in Arizona, Ruben Maynes told KRQE News 13 he didn’t know anything about explicit text messages from Governor Susana Martinez. He also said he did not gamble at the Route 66 Casino while on duty with the State Police.
Former Governor Martinez did not respond to a request for comment on the Maynes settlement.
“This is an issue that the public can easily understand, misuse of taxpayer dollars,” says State Senator Sander Rue who reviewed the recently released Maynes settlement file.
“I think they conspired to misuse public funds,” said Senator Rue, who is an advocate for openness and accountability in state government. “This is taxpayer money. If people are using this money to buy silence over misdeeds or embarrassing situations, that should trouble every New Mexico citizen,” Senator Rue said.
None of the officials involved in the Maynes settlement still work in state government.
General Services Cabinet Secretary Ken Ortiz said on his watch, there will not be Risk Management settlements just based on the representations of an attorney. “We’re going to be requiring specific allegations so that we can review them, validate them and investigate them if necessary in order to make the correct informed decision of how to best handle the case,” Secretary Ortiz said.
“We’ve got to send a message that this is not going to be tolerated,” Senator Rue says. “I would urge the Attorney General to immediately launch a complete and thorough investigation into these matters and to bring to justice those folks who have been found to … conspire to misuse public funds and who violated the public trust,” Rue said.