Illegal transaction shortchanges Sandoval County taxpayers $350K

Politics - Government

SANDOVAL COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Thanks to an illegal transaction by a former commissioner, Sandoval County taxpayers are out hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is according to current commissioners who said they are working to clean up the mess. While the money from the transaction has benefited the county from what they thought was just a lease, they now say they are owed more than what they are due.

Sandoval County commissioners said it was an inappropriate, illegal transaction more than a decade ago that is now coming to light. “I don’t know if you want to call it corruption or complete incompetence,” Commissioner Jay Block said. “Everybody understands that there is kind of a mess on our hands,” County Financial Advisor Rob Burpo added.

Former County Commission Chair Donnie Leonard, who was also the chair of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District at the time, signed a lease-purchase agreement to the transit in 2009, selling a county building at the Railrunner station in Bernalillo and the land attached. “To me, it seems like a conflict of interest,” Block said.

Leonard reportedly never presented it to the commission or state finance board which is required by law. Plus, there was no appraisal.

Now, commissioners said it was sold below market value. “He exceeded his authority as a county commissioner,” County Manager Wayne Johnson said.

The county didn’t know about it until the transit, who was also unaware of the issue, emailed them in December. “We told them that this is our building,” Burpo said. “They said, ‘oh no, that is our building. We just made the last payment on it, and we want the land in our name next month.'”

In last week’s meeting, commissioners said taxpayers need their money back, estimating they were shortchanged hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. “The taxpayers of Sandoval County are out roughly $350,000 because of this inappropriate transaction,” Block said.

Plus, Johnson said they could use the building. “We have a fire department bursting at the seams,” Johnson said. “Certainly, we could find a use for it.”

Leonard has not been accused of any impropriety that he stood to gain from this transaction. KRQE News 13 asked him about it Thursday afternoon.

“No, not at all,” Leonard said. “It [was] 11 years ago, and I don’t recall at all what happened that long ago. All I can say about it is, it is government to government. If there wasn’t something quite right, I am sure they can work that out between the two of them.”

Johnson said in order to transfer the property to the Mid-Region Council of Governments who runs the transit, they would have to do everything now that should have been done more than a decade ago. Both parties said they are looking forward to meeting on Tuesday to clear things up.

The building was once occupied by Workforce Connections and a sheriff’s department substation. County officials said it has been vacant for awhile.

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