Nearly a year after filing a whistleblower lawsuit against the state, former New Mexico Department of Health employee Bob Ortiz says he’s uncovered key evidence to support his claims of fraud at the agency.
Ortiz, who managed $540 million in federal contracts at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 27 years before coming to DOH in 2008, was fired last year partly for “disingenuous or irresponsible communication with the media.” This followed six months he spent on paid administrative leave, which he estimates cost taxpayers around $50,000.
Ortiz first came to SFR at the end of 2009, claiming—as he still does today—that DOH upper management instructed him to cover up a $1.7 million accounting error in the state’s Women, Infants and Children accounting books. WIC, a federal safety net program, provides food and nutrition services to low-income women and children.
The error dated back to 2006, when DOH staffers apparently miscategorized an expenditure and, thinking they lacked enough money to finish out the year, began spending money allotted to fiscal year 2007. That ripple effect continued through fiscal year 2009, when Ortiz says he found that DOH had borrowed $1.7 million in federal fiscal year 2009 money to finish out FFY08. Ortiz says he decided to correct the error by moving the money back into the 2008 budget.
But in June 2009, Ortiz alleges that two of his then-supervisors—Mike Mulligan and Dorothy “Duffy” Rodriguez—instructed him to put the $1.7 million back on the FFY09 books. The problem, Ortiz says, was that the money was actually spent in 2008, not 2009. To him, reclassifying that money wasn’t just an accounting mistake; it was fraud.
In the three years since SFR broke the news of Ortiz’ allegations, DOH has repeatedly denied them.
Now, however, new evidence has surfaced through Ortiz’ lawsuit against the state.
A letter written by then-Deputy Director of Administrative Services Donna Trujillo to the Office of the State Auditor in December 2009 directly contradicts her previous statements.
“During state fiscal year 2009, the WIC program experienced difficulty in correcting some residual expenditures for the 2008 WIC grant that had been charged to the 2009 grant,” Trujillo wrote. “There was no budget available in the 2008 grant to absorb the costs that should have been posted.”
In other words, Trujillo appears to have known there was a problem with the WIC program’s books—and that 2008 money had been charged to the 2009 fiscal year, even though it belonged in 2008. But that’s not what she told SFR.
In January 2010, Trujillo told SFR that the original $1.7 million WIC expenditure really belonged in 2009.
“There’s a lot of stuff that if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it looks bad,” she said at the time [cover story, Jan. 13, 2010: “DOH!”]. “But you can’t just go with that…until you really understand and really dig into the mechanics of what makes up this program.”
Ortiz says the letter supports what he’s been saying all along—that the $1.7 million expenditure occurred in 2008 and was wrongly charged to 2009. He adds that it makes Trujillo, as well as DOH, appear “less than honest.”
“It proved what I had originally told you guys was true,” he says.
This week, Trujillo confirmed that 2009 expenses did, in fact, belong in 2008, but said Ortiz’ action put the WIC budget out of balance.
“You can’t just fix one year without fixing all the others,” she says. “There were expenses in 2009 that didn’t belong [there], absolutely. But you can’t do it that way.” She says she went back and fixed each year’s budget, starting in 2006, after “a lot of research and reconciling.”
Ortiz’ and Trujillo’s career paths have since diverged. After making his allegations public in SFR, Ortiz says DOH retaliated against him by stripping him of his job duties and putting him in paid time-out. Finally, DOH fired him for “unprofessional conduct” and “creating a hostile work environment.”
Trujillo, on the other hand, became the chief financial officer of the New Mexico Finance Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that provides infrastructure bonds to local governments (and recently faced a high-profile scandal related to a forged audit). In an August 2012 email to board chairwoman Nann Winter, NMFA interim CEO John Gasparich oozed praise for Trujillo.
“She comes highly recommended by [Department of Finance and Administration Secretary] Tom Clifford for our CFO position,” Gasparich wrote to Winter. “Apparently she has a reputation as a ‘fixer’ of state agencies.” Ortiz says hiring Trujillo as the second-in-command at NMFA should raise some eyebrows.
“Based on my experience with this deal, I’d be concerned,” Ortiz says.
Read Donna Trujillo's 2009 letter to the OSA and NMFA letter about her below: