State Attorney General to investigate allegations against Rio Arriba County solid waste authority

Jul. 31—The state Attorney General’s Office intends to investigate a special grand jury’s allegation the North Central Regional Solid Waste Authority harmed the citizens of Rio Arriba County through malfeasance, misappropriation of funds and unlawful liens.

“The allegations set forth in the report of the citizen’s grand jury investigation … are deeply troubling,” Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Lauren Rodriguez wrote in an email Monday.

Rodriguez wrote the Attorney General’s Office opened a separate investigation “and intends to use its civil enforcement authority to investigate whether and to what extent consumers have been harmed by unlawful business practices in the past and to prevent such practices in the future.”

The grand jury was empaneled based on a petition filed by a private citizen and signed by hundreds of county residents asking the court to conduct a special inquiry. It released a scathing 22-page report late last month, concluding the waste authority should be placed into receivership and a new board immediately appointed because of a range of problems — some potentially illegal.

The grand jury also indicted Rio Arriba County Commission Chairman Alex Naranjo and former County Manager Tomas Campos on perjury charges in connection with their testimony about the authority. The grand jury also called for the waste authority to be indicted, citing “fake billing for services not rendered,” among other allegations.

Naranjo currently serves on the authority board. Campos is a former member.

State District Judge Jason Lidyard sent letters to Attorney General Raúl Torrez and First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies last week, notifying them the special grand jury “requests further inquiry by your offices.”

The District Attorney’s Office has primary criminal jurisdiction over the indictments, Rodriguez wrote, adding “we have no reason to believe that the elected District Attorney is unwilling or unable to pursue those charges.”

The District Attorney’s Office is examining options regarding the findings listed in the special grand jury’s report, spokesman Nathan Lederman wrote in an email. He declined to address allegations included in the report, including a claim the panel “found it difficult to obtain information critical to its investigation from the District Attorney’s Office,” which had been tasked with aiding the investigation.

“Due to the parameters of grand jury proceedings, which are secret by nature, we are unable to answer any media questions pertaining to the report or its findings at this time,” Lederman wrote. “However, our office is planning on filing a pleading into the court record shortly that may address most of your inquiries.”

A woman who answered the phone Monday at the waste authority declined to comment on behalf of general manager Leo Marquez.

The Rio Arriba County Commission has met at least once since the report was released. But County Commissioner Moises Morales said Naranjo’s indictment — and the grand jury’s recommendation that any board members who hold elected office be removed from their posts — were not discussed at that meeting.

Morales said a phone call from a reporter Monday was the first time anyone has asked him about the report.

“We had a meeting Thursday, and nothing about this came up,” Morales said in a phone interview. “I had just barely found out. I found out after the meeting when I came home. I’ll probably bring it up with the county manager, then the commission.

“We are all governed by the regulations, policies, laws, etc.,” Morales added. “We must follow them, especially if we are political officials. We are the examples. Otherwise, we suffer the consequences. I applaud the efforts of the grand jury. This was by no means an easy task.”

Rio Arriba County Commissioner Brandon Bustos and County Manager Jeremy Maestas did not respond to messages seeking comment. Maestas also serves on the board of the waste authority.

State Auditor Joseph Maestas, who served on the waste authority board more than a decade ago, said in a phone interview his office doesn’t currently have any active cases regarding the agency, “but we are going to monitor the situation and see if there is a need for us to intervene.”

“The timeframe of the grand jury report goes back to 2018, which is well after my tenure which was very brief,” Maestas wrote in an email. “My concerns at the time that I served on the authority’s board is I felt that the city solid waste operations were subsidizing county operations and that there were pueblo voting members on the board despite those pueblos not utilizing the services of the authority.”

Maestas said Monday he didn’t feel his past tenure on the board would create a conflict of interest if the State Auditor’s Office were to investigate the waste authority.

Lidyard, who empaneled the grand jury that investigated the waste authority, recused himself from presiding over the criminal cases against Naranjo and Campos, writing in a recusal notice he was doing so “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety” based on having convened the citizen-petition grand jury in the case.

The cases have since been assigned to District Judges Mary Marlowe Sommer and T. Glenn Ellington.

Attorney Elden Pennington, who entered an appearance last week on behalf of Naranjo, declined to comment in depth Monday. “This is so preliminary,” he said. “We don’t know what statement the grand jury allegation is based on.”

Campos referred questions to his attorney, Tom Clark, last week. Clark did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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