New Mexico Local Police Union Probed for Missing Funds
Police officers spend a lot of time investigating theft. Yet sometimes they, or their civilian employees, are the ones who get investigated. This past April, the Santa Fe Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the New Mexico State Police and the Santa Fe District Attorney's Office each confirmed the existence of an active criminal probe into the nature of missing funds from the Santa Fe chapter of the FOP. No charges have been filed in the ensuing months nor have any arrests been made. But evidence gathered thus far underscores how heavily the FOP, and not just its Santa Fe lodge, has come to rely on gambling for revenues.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, an unnamed former civilian employee of the Santa Fe Fraternal Order of Police was under investigation for diversion of union funds. The individual responded that she heard that she may be a target, but denies any wrongdoing. The New Mexico Gaming Control Board has placed conditions on the chapter's gaming license, one of which has been to keep this employee away from gaming operations. FOP attorney Rosanna Vasquez said lodge board members had taken "drastic measures" to keep their union afloat. She added that she isn't aware of how much money is missing or how the situation came to be. Santa Fe police sergeant and FOP Second Vice President Adam Gallegos explained things this way: "We've been in the hole for a long time. We've reached an agreement on the taxes, but it's going to take time for us to pay it all back."
The Santa Fe chapter's financial problems became evident starting around 2008. That year, noted IRS Form 990 documents, it had expenses of more than $313,000, well more than its $200,000 in revenues. And the $113,000 loss was far worse than its $21,675 loss in the prior year. As of this spring, the chapter owed more than $40,000 in county back taxes. The state gaming board suspended the FOP slot machine license for about three months in 2008 "to assure that all gaming reports were in compliance and to train a new gaming manager and gaming accountant." Later that year the board and the Santa Fe FOP reached an out-of-court settlement over alleged violations that included "failing to exercise discretion and sound judgment in the operation of the activity authorized under the license" and "failing to follow, or to ensure that employees follow, the minimum internal controls."
Since that time, the FOP has had its gaming license renewed each year, but with the stipulation that two employees, Margaret Dubois and Benito Gonzales, not be involved in gaming operations in any way, "including maintaining custodial control of gaming documents." The D.A.'s office has confirmed that Gonzales, who is now FOP board president, is not a target of any criminal investigation. The office won't comment on whether Dubois, fired from her position as FOP secretary around 2009, is a suspect. She commented that "a lack of checks and balances within the organization" caused money to go missing, but couldn't offer specifics. She's suspected for a while that she's been the target of a probe. "I don't know what or if something is going to come against me," she remarked. "I keep hearing about this every four or five months, with my name coming up each time. But I've never been interviewed by State Police or the D.A."
The case underscores the unusual nature of funding for the Fraternal Order of Police. The 325,000-member FOP, founded in Pittsburgh nearly a century ago and headquartered in Nashville, operates as a union, though it dislikes using the term. Its chapters derive much of their revenues from bingo, slot machines and other on-premises and online betting. As such, it's become a formidable lobby for the gaming industry. This spring, for example, the FOP joined forces with the Poker Players Alliance in supporting legislation to establish a regulatory system for online gambling in hopes of generating federal tax revenues from offshore Internet gambling sites. And in August 2009, the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio announced its support for "Issue 3," a measure on the November ballot that year to redirect 33 percent of casino tax revenues to all counties and major cities. Two percent of the revenues would be earmarked for law enforcement training. The measure passed by 53 percent to 47 percent. Given that so many cases of union embezzlement generally are related to paying off personal gambling debts, dues - voluntary, of course - might be a better way to go.