**Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include more information about Tim Keller’s 2021 mayoral campaign, contributions made to the Keller campaign, and the City of Albuquerque’s public financing rules.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque city councilor is asking the state attorney general to look into two recent city projects, accusing Mayor Tim Keller’s administration of “potential criminal conduct.” The request is the latest escalation surrounding the purchase of indoor football turf used in Rio Rancho and a book about the city’s pandemic response.

Written by Councilor Louie Sanchez, the letter, in part, asks Attorney General Raúl Torrez (D) to investigate the city’s nearly $240,000 purchase of artificial turf used by the Duke City Gladiators indoor football team. Sanchez also questions “the handling” of roughly $70,000 used by the city’s “One Albuquerque Fund” to publish the book “City at a Crossroads.”

In statement Wednesday, the Albuquerque Mayor’s Office in part called Sanchez’s request “cheap political comments” and “empty accusations from a councilor who has been biased against this administration from day one.” A spokesperson for the New Mexico Attorney General’s told KRQE News 13 Wednesday the office has received Sanchez’s letter. The office is now said to be reviewing the request.

Football turf

“When you see something like this, you want to make sure there’s some sort of investigation, you want to make sure the truth comes out,” Sanchez said in an interview with KRQE News 13 Wednesday. “The Albuquerque city taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going.”

Representing parts of southwest Albuquerque, Louie Sanchez was among a group of city councilors who questioned Keller Administration officials about the turf purchase in a January 2023 meeting. At the time, councilors raised issues about turf’s use by a privately owned football team, the Duke City Gladiators, which plays outside of Albuquerque at the Rio Rancho Events Center.

KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker first exposed the purchase in a November 2022 investigation. Barker’s reporting revealed the city was denied partial reimbursement for the project after a review by the state’s Department of Finance.

The city requested a $160,000 reimbursement for the turf via capital outlay funding. The DFA rejected the request, claiming “the proposed expenditure to purchase artificial turf violates the appropriation law” saying the turf is not being used in a public space and isn’t being used in Albuquerque. The DFA also cited a conflict with the state’s anti-donation clause, accusing the city of “proposing to purchase the turf to provide directly to a private entity.”

Citing the turf project, Sanchez accuses the Keller Administration of buying the turf with Albuquerque tax dollars. The turf, Sanchez says, “appears to have been given to a campaign donors’ football team located in Rio Rancho.”

To note, Keller was a publicly financed candidate both the 2017 and 2021 city elections where he ran for mayor. City rules state publicly financed candidates can accept up to $2,500 worth of in-kind donations of goods or services, or, seed funding of up to $250 per individual. For more on the difference between the two types of contributions, view the city’s campaign financing rules.

Records obtained by Investigative Reporter Larry Barker indicate Keller’s 2021 re-election campaign received a total of $1,500 from the Gladiators’ owner, Gina Prieskorn-Thomas and her associated business, Dark Horse Investments. Campaign finance reports list three specific contributions to Keller’s re-election campaign, including $1,000 worth of in-kind contributions from Prieskorn-Thomas, $250 of seed funding from Prieskorn-Thomas, and $250 of seed funding from Dark Horse Investments, Inc.

A recent report from the Albuquerque Inspector General’s Office found the turf purchase violated the New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation clause. The report in part recommends Albuquerque city officials attempt to recoup the $236,622.15 the city spent on the turf from Global Spectrum L.P., the operator of the Rio Rancho Events Center.

The Albuquerque City Attorney disagreed with the IG’s recent findings. In a statement to the IG, the City Attorney said in part, “The purchase comports with the anti-donation clause and does not meet the definition of ‘donation’ as clearly establish in New Mexico law.”

The Keller Administration offered this statement Wednesday in response to Sanchez’s claims:

“​These are cheap political comments and empty accusations from a councilor who has been biased against this administration from day one. Investing in local sports, opportunities for youth, and documenting our history are things that the City has always done and will keep doing.”

Office of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller

City at a Crossroads book

Councilor Sanchez is also asking for the AG to investigate “the handling” of a recently published book, funded by “taxpayer money,” according to Sanchez. The book, titled, “City at a Crossroads” was penned by Albuquerque journalist Joline Gutierrez Krueger.

The book is described as documenting the history of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Albuquerque and “how the city’s government and citizens came together to weather change.” City records obtained by KRQE News 13 show the city shelled out at more than $70,000 for the book.

“I do not think spending nearly a hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to pay a journalist and publish a book, which appears to be a marketing device regarding the Mayor’s response to COVID, is appropriate or legal,” Sanchez writes in his letter to AG Torrez, while noting the book has numerous photos of Mayor Tim Keller and his family.

Sanchez also questions where the profits are going for the book’s sale. Sanchez says it is his understanding that funds from the book’s sale are being collected by the “One Albuquerque Fund”, which he accuses of functioning like a Political Action Committee.

The “One Albuquerque Fund” started in 2019. According to a news release announcing its launch, the fund is considered “a tax-exempt 509(a)(3) supporting organization for the City of Albuquerque.”

In an interview with KRQE News 13 about the book in October 2022, the city’s Arts and Culture Department defended the book. Department Director Dr. Shelle Sanchez said, in part, “We wanted to share with the community, something that was much more about storytelling, and not just a report. I think the final product is good.”