A 38-page investigative report with hundreds of pages of back-up documentation was released Thursday to Los Alamos County officials by the law firm of Adams + Crow. The law firm was hired by the County in March as a result of an ethics investigation request made by Councilor Susan O’Leary and former Councilor James Chrobocinski.The law firm was initially hired under a $30,000 contract to investigate allegations of improprieties of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) and what, if any, role Los Alamos County had in requests for reimbursement submitted by former RCLC Executive Director Andrea Romero and her company, Andrea Romero Consulting, LLC (ARC) during the period March 2016 through March 2018.In June, Adams + Crow asked the County Council for an additional $20,000 to complete its investigation. At that time attorney Alana DeYoung told the Council that Adams + Crow “had not found any evidence that there was knowing violation” of the three areas being investigated.
However, the report issued Thursday contains extensive findings and conclusions that do not reflect well on the County.Adams + Crow initially performed an investigation into the history of the RCLC itself because during preliminary interviews with County officials and RCLC representatives, they were “confused” as to the type of entity RCLC constitutes. The investigation then turned to the nature of the expenditures and reimbursements made under applicable policies and laws and determined that violations had occurred.Although designated under the Joint Powers Agreement that established the County simply as “fiscal agent”, the report indicates that through its conduct over time, the County assumed a greater fiduciary duty to the RCLC as a matter of practice.
It states that there are instances when the County and its employees performed duties assigned to the RCLC treasurer/secretary such as reviewing receipts and disbursements, preparing and presenting RCLC’s financial statements, recommending the RCLC board enter into services agreements, preparing and amending travel and expense policies and conducting informal audits.“The ambiguous role of the County was found to have contributed to uncertainty or ‘confusion’ by County officials and employees, as well as RCLC and ARC, allowing impermissible expenditures and reimbursements to occur,” the report states. “This ‘confusion’, however, was avoidable and could/should have been addressed much earlier in the five+ years of the RCLC’s existence given the number of educated and sophisticated people working with the County including elected County Councilors who served on the RCLC board and sometimes as treasurer.”
The report confirms in two areas that Adams + Crow did not find any documented “admissions” by County officials or employees of a concerted effort to mislead or conceal anything but confirmed that it found from a non-technical perspective “defective infrastructure that allowed multiple informed and educated County officials and employees to rely on a purported history of ‘confusion’ that led to careless and possibly reckless use of public money”.County officials and employees were recipients/beneficiaries of meals and entertainment that violated applicable RCLC policies as well as state law, the report states, adding that after the County was alerted to possible misconduct through an IPRA request by NNM Protects, “the County attempted to correct deficiencies arising from the ill-defined practices regarding RCLC’s governance, policies and activities”.“These attempts to ‘fix it’ include, but are not limited to, post hoc recharacterization of money already reimbursed to ARC as well as an attempt to amend RCLC’s travel policy to not only allow the type of impermissible reimbursements that had already been made to ARC (and recharacterized during the attempt to ‘fix it’) but more concerning, to exempt ARC from being subject to the travel policy altogether. In this way, the County’s attempts to ‘fix it’ would have purportedly allowed the ‘independent contractor’ serving as RCLC’s executive director to do what an employee of RCLC could never do, i.e., to circumvent the law,” the report states.Adams + Crow concludes in its report that the County’s “corrective” efforts not only reflect poorly on County officials and employees but may constitute efforts to intentionally mislead others and/or conceal misconduct.