Jon Hendry makes no bones about it. He knows who he favors as the next mayor of Santa Fe and is willing to work for that candidate.
But Hendry, the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, landed in the fire this month when he denied that a political action committee he was affiliated with had spent money on opposition research. Soon Progressive Santa Fe PAC admitted hiring a Washington, DC, researcher to collect dirt on each candidate for mayor. Shortly thereafter, organizers said Hendry was no longer part of the PAC leadership.
Hendry’s chosen candidate, Javier Gonzales, also wrote in a campaign announcement that Hendry had voluntarily left his campaign, even though the labor boss had stuck his neck out for Gonzales by posting an early sign at a union headquarters building that read “Run, Javier, Run.” Now, mayoral candidate Roman “Tiger” Abeyta has filed a complaint with the national AFL-CIO against Hendry, alleging charges of improper campaign coordination. Hendry made a show of giving back an award he had previously received from the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Fe, which Abeyta runs.
In local political circles, Hendry has the reputation of a workhorse for New Mexico’s film industry and has done noteworthy hands-on campaigning for local Democratic Party candidates. But over the years, he’s also raised ire among union members and even been investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office. All of this begs the question—is association with Hendry a boon or a bust for the mayor’s race?
“Mr. Hendry talks a good labor line,” wrote Jerry Fuentes, a former lobbyist who worked for Hendry, in a different AFL-CIO complaint in June, “but as the old saying goes, ‘actions speak louder than words.’”
As president of the state’s AFL-CIO, Hendry is effectively the New Mexico’s spokesman for organized labor. Added to that, he’s served for 12 years as a business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, where he plays a large role in facilitating contracts to the union that represents film and television crew workers across the state.
Fuentes, who has been a dues-paying IATSE member for the past six years, maintains that Hendry’s leadership is “more in line with those of a CEO of a corporation.”
For one, Fuentes alleges that during the 2009 legislative session, Hendry instructed him to collect unemployment and instead paid him for lobbying work with stipends for business expenses like food and lodging. Fuentes also claims that Hendry kept him off health insurance for months despite that Fuentes had colon and prostate cancer.
“I felt that Mr. Hendry took advantage of my health circumstances to get me to work for less than I should have been paid,” Fuentes writes in the letter.
“Great stuff for a union official,” he continues, “let alone the leader of labor of New Mexico.”
Hendry denies Fuentes’ allegations, maintaining that he’s a big believer in his employees getting the health insurance they need. He adds that the timing of the allegations are politically motivated because next month, he’ll face re-election for his post as IATSE’s business agent.
“Those that oppose me politically do all sorts of things,” Hendry tells SFR. “They spread rumors, write complaint letters. By simply writing and asking something, they get people to respond.”
Hendry’s problems, however, haven’t been limited to displeasing some of his members like Fuentes.
From 2007 to 2010, the state Attorney General’s Office investigated Hendry for allegedly committing fraud and embezzling nearly $20,000 in the administration of a contract between the New Mexico Film Office and the union. Though the agency spent three years investigating and produced enough documents to fill three full cardboard boxes, it eventually decided not to prosecute.
First, a former union official interviewed by the AG Investigations Division alleged Hendry signed the contract without the union’s approval. Then, documents show, Hendry subcontracted the work to This Machine Productions, a company at the time run by his girlfriend Lisa Van Allen. Hendry says Van Allen’s company administered the contract because union funds “can only be paid for the advancement of members.”
The contract, which was part of a state jobs incentive program to train film crew workers, stipulates that IATSE is supposed to pay educators a rate of $40 per hour including benefits, with the state reimbursing a chunk of the educators’ salaries. Investigation documents indicate that it appears Hendry and Van Allen in many cases paid mentors less than what was stipulated in the contract.
Once Hendry and Van Allen found out they were under scrutiny, the AG investigative reports say that they began to issue back-pay to the mentors and educators they had underfunded, in some cases as long as a year after their initial payment.
“Would this payment have been made had the Attorney General’s Office not begun the investigation into the administration of this contract?” the AG report reads.
But Hendry says the mentors and educators were paid salaries and benefits at different times, which he maintains is a standard process. He further adds that he wasn’t aware of the investigation until at least a year into it and that he was never contacted to interview for it.
The investigation also indicates some of the money in the contract might have been used for political purposes.
When the investigator interviewed Van Allen, he asked about a check from This Machine Productions that his office obtained from the bank. Its memo line read “coordination activities for governor’s commercials.” When Van Allen provided the AG’s office copies of the same check, the section linking it to Richardson’s commercial was scratched out.
“I asked her if she scratched it out,” the AG report reads. “After stammering, she responded, ‘I don’t have a recollection that’s going to allow me to answer that question.’”
The AG’s Investigations Division handed the case over to its Prosecution Division complete with a ready-to-sign 20-count indictment, but in the end, the office declined to press charges against Hendry and Van Allen. AG spokesman Phil Sisneros says the office determined that the evidence obtained in the investigation, as well as a statute of limitations set to expire soon, would not add up to successful prosecution.
“We did not have sufficient evidence to meet that burden of proof,” Sisneros says.
Hendry, who worked as the state Tourism Department’s marketing director for the Richardson administration, says the investigation was a part of a political witch-hunt against those associated with the former governor, who at the time faced alleged corruption issues.
“Everybody in the Richardson administration was investigated,” he says. “Three years and tons of documents is a sign of people cooperating and the AG not making this a high priority.”
Similarly, Fuentes says he hasn’t heard back from the national AFL-CIO regarding his complaint. Now, he chops and sells firewood for money.
Fuentes alleges that in Janaury, the union boss ordered $200 worth of his firewood for the AFL-CIO and never paid for it.
“Jon Hendry told me I’d go from Hollywood to hauling wood,” Fuentes tells SFR. “He’s so dishonest he didn’t even pay me for the firewood.”
Hendry still has backers, however. Gonzales, former head of the state Democratic Party, praises him for being “one of the best champions” for the film industry and its workforce.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Gonzales tells SFR in an interview Tuesday. “His dealings with me have always been ethical.”
View the Attorney General's Investigation on Hendry below: