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Former Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano's Nov. 24 admission that he had sold used protective vests and other police gear—belts, holsters, phones and flashlights—on eBay for personal gain was, to many, shocking yet forgivable.
"Like many Americans I have been caught up in a high mortgage, with high interest rates," Solano's statement reads. "I am just a normal man trying to keep my family afloat during these tough financial times."
Solano's seemingly forthright approach elicited an initial outpouring of support. But within a week, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, which has been investigating Solano for approximately four months, revealed that Solano's version of the story leaves out some crucial details.
"There was conflicting information in his resignation letter, indicating that he had sold solely used items while he was the sheriff," DPS Public Information Officer Eric Garcia tells SFR. "That was incorrect; he had sold brand-new items as well."
State Auditor Hector Balderas who, in response to Solano's resignation, announced his plans to help Santa Fe County conduct a special audit of the Sheriff's Office, says public admissions of wrongdoing often require extra scrutiny.
"[A public confession] is usually just the tip of the iceberg," Balderas tells SFR. "You don't want to just take an individual's word for it; you want to get an [auditor's] opinion to see if there are other sustained losses."
Balderas says the lapses in oversight that allowed Solano to sell county property online are common.
"Lack of inventorying and lack of control around cash and assets is a big problem," Balderas says. "When you don't have tight controls, it's easy for a bad actor to just take that property and convert it for…personal gain."
Balderas has previously exhorted public agencies to submit timely audits [News, Oct. 27: "Don't Count On It"]. But Santa Fe County's problem isn't late audits, but repeated deficiencies in cash control and other accounting practices, in some cases since 2006. The county, Balderas says, "should have caught this much sooner."
Solano himself isn't talking to the media and, in a message left on SFR's voicemail, his attorney, Brooke Gamble, also declined to comment. Solano's once-vocal blog is now closed. But through court documents, public records and news articles from the past 20 years, SFR has pieced together his financial history—and the potential tip-offs therein.
SFR's interactive timeline of the Solanos' financial woes, and other stories...
Santa Fe Reporter