By Associated Press - Friday, July 3, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A state lawmaker has yet to respond to a request to reimburse an agency that promotes the Los Alamos National Laboratory nearly $7,800 in “impermissible expenses” linked to her previous role as executive director.

Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive director Eric Vasquez told The Santa Fe New Mexican that the taxpayer-funded agency sent a letter to state Rep. Andrea Romero in May. But so far, the group has not received a replay, Vasquez said.

Romero previously reimbursed the agency $2,200, but that was before the state auditor’s office released a report in August 2018 that identified 18 negative findings. Those included impermissible reimbursements for travel, meals, and alcoholic beverages and lobbying activities that jeopardized funding the agency receives from the Department of Energy.

The audit especially hits Romero over unlawful reimbursements and found a lack of adequate documentation to support many expenditures “in violation of the published travel policy and state law.”

A separate audit found Romero as executive director spent $1,850 on a dinner in Washington, D.C., $307 for a dozen Major League Baseball tickets, and at other events where alcohol was paid for. Those findings also were in Tuesday’s state auditor’s report.

The coalition’s travel policies prohibit alcohol as an allowable expense, but the audit says Romero was reimbursed.

Romero did not return messages seeking comment.

“I think that’ll be up to the board to decide if they pursue it any more” if Romero doesn’t respond to the letter, Vasquez said.

“I can tell you that the board is looking at trying to act in the organization’s best financial interest or fiscal interest,” he added. “Continuing to pursue it may just be spending more money than the coalition would even get back.”

Romero, acknowledged using bad judgment, scored a stunning upset in June 2018 when she beat three-term incumbent Carl Trujillo in a heated Democratic primary race. She won the seat against a write-in candidate that fall.

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