They laughed, hunted alligator, drank beer, went crabbing, cooked Cajun food, slapped each other on the back—“good old boys” having a “good old time.”
That’s the account given by George Blanchard of a September 2011 hunting trip taken by First Gentleman Chuck Franco and two State Police officers—Ruben Maynes and Frank Chavez—who accompanied the Republican governor’s husband as his security detail.
“We were tickled to death to have the First Gentleman come down and visit with us,” Blanchard, of Breaux Bridge, La., says in an interview. He’s the uncle of Maynes’ wife, Donna.
But what Blanchard says was a “completely innocent” trip eventually became “very uncomfortable” after it piqued the curiosity of the media.
Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration has turned the trip into a year-long public records battle after denying the release of documents showing the officers’ pay and itemized expenditures made on taxpayer dime during the trip. The administration has argued that release of records related to the governor’s security detail could put the governor and her family’s security at risk. But Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat seeking to challenge Martinez for governor in 2014, has determined the administration’s refusal to release certain records was “invalid.”
Records released after the determination showed the two officers billed taxpayers about $630 for gas for the road-trip in the state-owned vehicle and over $2,000 in overtime pay alone.
SFR has also requested an itemized list of expenditures made on the security detail’s procurement card during the trip. The Department of Finance and Administration says the officers billed taxpayers about $123 for instate food expenses. But DFA denied SFR’s request for an itemized list of those expenditures showing where the officers spent the taxpayer money, again citing security concerns. The agency’s General Counsel Gregory S. Shaffer and Records Custodian Tim Korte only pointed to a Texas Supreme Court case on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s travel records, which said disclosure of certain records could put his security at risk. SFR submitted an official complaint to AG King’s office, which is pending.
But as the administration has denied and stalled on records requests, it has also changed its narrative about the trip.
The governor’s office initially maintained Franco paid his own way for the trip and that it was appropriate to assign two State Police officers for his protection. Franco is a retired law enforcement officer who now works part time as a security guard in the federal courthouse in Santa Fe.
“The governor’s spokesman on Wednesday said it was first gentleman Chuck Franco who made the trip to Louisiana, for a hunting vacation, paid for by himself,” the Albuquerque Journal reported in April 2012, “with two security officers sent at the direction of the State Police chief.”
State law mandates the State Police chief work with the governor to determine the extent and manner of security protection provided to the governor and the governor’s family.
More than a year after that article, the administration disclosed that it was actually the two State Police officers who planned the trip, and invited Franco with them. And only recently did the administration disclose that Blanchard paid $500 for two nights of lodging and $500 for Franco to shoot an alligator. Franco only paid $200 for a hunting guide, the governor’s office recently disclosed.
Blanchard explains to SFR that when Ruben Maynes comes to Louisiana, Blanchard pays for Maynes. When Blanchard hunts in New Mexico, Maynes will pay for him. “So it’s an even trade,” he says.
“There was no nefarious intent (saying), ‘Hey, let’s plan this trip and invite a dignitary, and therefore we’ll get it paid for,’” State Police Chief Robert Shilling told the Albuquerque Journal last week.
An administration spokesman tells the Albuquerque Journal the governor’s office is releasing details about the trip to “put to rest the ridiculous and utterly baseless assertions by left-wing political groups that the first gentleman’s personal trip was at all related to the (Downs lease).”
The September 2011 trip occurred during the same period the Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack & Casino was bidding for a 25-year extension for its lucrative lease of State Fairgrounds in Duke City. Two owners of the Downs have business interests in Louisiana. The liberal political group Independent Source PAC suggested Downs interests could have paid for Franco’s accommodations during the trip, a potential violation of New Mexico’s Gift Act.
The administration released sworn affidavits by the two State Police officers that said Franco did not receive accommodations or gifts by the Downs owners, “nor from any other person or entity doing business, or seeking to do business, with the state of New Mexico,” the Associated Press reports. The two officers made the sworn statements in response to an investigation of the controversial Downs lease by AG King’s office, according to the AP, which reported the officers' each brought a son along for the trip.
In February 2012, the governor’s office hired Maynes’ wife Donna into an executive assistant position that pays $55,000 annually.
Information released by ISPAC shows that’s a significant salary increase for Donna Maynes, who in a 2009 bankruptcy petition by her husband listed $990 in monthly income as a daycare provider. Ruben listed $272,460 in liabilities held by creditors like banks, business suppliers, business lenders, hospitals and people for whom he’d owed thousands in unfinished business. One Deming woman, Martha Benton, says she doesn’t recall Ruben Maynes, despite that he stated in the bankruptcy petition he owed her $2,850 in a refund for “unfinished work” in 2008. She said in an interview that she’s 93. The petition shows Maynes had also written $6,263 in bad checks to Bud’s Drapery Den Inc. The Office of the Pima County Attorney was representing the Tucson, Az.-based supplier by the time Maynes filed the bankruptcy petition.
In May 2010, Maynes also pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors for contracting without a license, according to online court records. Two 90-day sentences in the Grant County Detention Center were suspended, according to online records, and Maynes was put on 728 days of unsupervised probation, one of the terms of which was that the State Police officer “shall conduct himself as a law abiding citizen.”
An administration spokesman told the Albuquerque Journal the hiring of Donna Maynes was “absolutely not” related to the trip’s expenses.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell has not returned a voicemail. State Police Chief Shilling has not returned a message left last week. Maynes’ wife Donna, reached by phone, would not comment.
While Blanchard notes that nearly every truck stop in the Bayou State has gambling, he tells SFR Franco and the officers did not gamble during the trip. He says they went on an alligator hunt, a crabbing trip, a fish fry, “and we ended up in my camp in Mississippi in the Piney Woods” where they ate venison, drank beer and “set a few lines.”
“We just showed [Franco] some good old Southern hospitality,” he says.