- Associated Press - Friday, August 10, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s Democratic House speaker is defending a Democratic House candidate criticized in a state audit for improper reimbursements as head of an agency that promotes the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Brian Egolf told The Associated Press this week that a report released by State Auditor Wayne Johnson showed Andrea Romero acted properly to correct reimbursements as executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

“I am not calling on Andrea Romero to step aside,” Egolf said. “I’m looking forward to serving with her in the House. This audit report clearly shows she took appropriate responsible for reimbursement errors. “

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities approved improper reimbursement for alcohol, food, travel and baseball tickets, The New Mexico state auditor has said. The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is an agency made of nine northern New Mexico cities, counties and pueblos surrounding the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. The group promotes the economy in connection with the lab and contracts associated with lab work.

The audit takes aim at Romero, former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director, for alleged unlawful reimbursements and found a lack of adequate documentation to support many expenditures “in violation of the published travel policy and state law.”

Romero said in a statement Tuesday she “did not knowingly or deliberately violate any standard for reimbursement” and has since repaid the reimbursements.

Meanwhile, the Santa Fe New Mexico reported late Thursday that an independent investigation of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities found that Los Alamos County tried to revise existing documents in a possible attempt to conceal thousands of dollars in unlawful reimbursements for meals, liquor and other spending.

The report by an Albuquerque-based law firm found that the county, which acted as the taxpayer-funded agency’s fiscal agent, “attempted to correct deficiencies arising from the ill-defined practices regarding RCLC’s governance, policies, and activities” after the county was alerted to the possible misconduct.

Los Alamos County spokeswoman Julie Habiger said in a statement that the investigation was commissioned by the Los Alamos County Council. “After councilors have had an opportunity to review the report, they will provide a response,” she said.

The audits come as Romero is seeking to win a Santa Fe seat in New Mexico’s House of Representatives after defeating Rep. Carl Trujillo in the Democratic primary in June. Trujillo faces allegations of sexual harassment from a lobbyist. Trujillo has denied the claims.

Romero faces no Republican opposition in the general election, but Democrat Heather Nordquist is challenging Romero as a write-in candidate.

Egolf said the audit report points out that the regional coalition board adopted policies that were not in compliance and those policies have been corrected.

The Republican Party of New Mexico said Romero should be held accountable for “breaking the law for personal gain” and for misusing taxpayer money.

“Romero’s chronic habit of breaking the law for personal enrichment should disqualify her from serving as an elected official,” Republican Party of New Mexico Executive Director Ryan Gleason said in a statement.


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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