Turned Out the Lights

An alleged pattern of quiet mismanagement left the recently revived ‘Santa Fean,’ and other local businesses, in the dark

For decades, Santa Fe’s art and tourism businesses filled the pages of two mainstay publications: Santa Fean magazine and The Essential Guide. But lately, both have been missing from the racks.

That’s because both publications stopped printing this summer.

Those who worked on the publications over the last year tell SFR that the glossies’ futures are murky—and they pin the uncertainty on a series of purchases, including the acquisition of the two publications, by a Santa Fe couple in 2020.

Before Kelly and Martin Haug took over, things had run smoothly and predictably with the magazines, workers tell SFR. But over time, a pattern emerged: bounced checks, missed deadlines, lack of communication and worse.

SFR interviewed a half dozen former contributors, reviewed several wage complaints filed against the couple’s businesses and other public records, plus a lawsuit filed in state District Court against the Haugs by one of the previous business owners alleging breach of contract.

The interviews and records paint a grim, frustrating picture from the perspective of those who worked under and with the couple.

“I’ve gotten so many calls and emails from people saying, ‘The Santa Fean was a regular thing,’ it was something everybody knew about,” Judith Fein, a contributor to both publications, tells SFR. “And it’s been run into the ground now so it is no more...It’s buried but there’s been no funeral service.”

The Haugs, for their part, appear to be blaming COVID-19 for the woes of the businesses they purchased. Both declined to be interviewed, though Kelly Haug responded to one email inquiry: “Does the [Santa Fe Reporter] report on all businesses that go out of business or didn’t survive the pandemic?”

She and her husband came to town with big plans. Along with their purchase of the two glossies, the Haugs also bought two other businesses: Santa Fe Print and Images and Eldorado QuikSend.

Records show that the Haugs secured two loans with the Small Business Administration in early 2020 through LLCs registered in their name, guaranteed for just under $670,000. According to the business brokerage Sam Goldenberg & Associates (SGA), the cost of the two magazines and the Eldorado QuikSend was $900,000. SGA did not facilitate the sale of Santa Fe Print and Images.

The firm, acting as a neutral agent between the buyer and seller, recognized that the acquisition of three new businesses at one time was ambitious.

“We strongly recommended that they slow down, that they take things one step at a time and that they be conscientious of not biting off more than they can chew,” Erika Munde, senior account manager with SGA, tells SFR. “Ultimately it is a buyer’s decision to make.”

Despite the warning, the Haugs pressed ahead. It is not clear whether the Haugs are paying off the loans; neither SBA nor the bank financing the loan would provide SFR with the status of the public’s borrowed money.

Janet Elder was The Essential Guide’s editor for 14 years—she practically never missed a deadline. When the longtime owners of the publication, Trish and Chip Byrd, sold the business to the Haugs in May 2020, Elder didn’t know what to expect.

But the Byrds had labeled Kelly Haug a “rising star in our business community” in the 2020/21 issue of The Essential Guide, leaving Elder hopeful of good things to come for the guidebook and another magazine she started picking up work for: the Santa Fean.

In May 2020, the year after Bella Media had called it quits for the magazine, with publisher Bruce Adams facing his own allegations of a fast shutdown, the Haugs assumed ownership of the publication. The 50th year of publication was just ahead.

“Kelly was talking about the big 50th edition and what some ideas might be for that,” Elder remembers. Other contributing authors add that Kelly always embraced story pitches and was open to ideas at first.

But over time, contributors struggled to get in contact with editors and others with the magazine for direction.

“There was an assistant there, I reached out to her, no one seemed to know what was going on,” Alana Grimstad, a freelance contributor to the Santa Fean, tells SFR. Eventually, “we just knew we weren’t getting paid for work we had completed, and we had signed the contract for.”

As for the 50th edition of the Santa Fean and the 2021/22 issue of The Essential Guide: “Of course that did not happen,” Elder says. The last issue of the Santa Fean published in July; subscriber Kathy Donahue says she tried to get information about other issues she prepaid for, but she’s still waiting.

Records from the Department of Workforce Solutions show three employees and contributors have filed upwards of $20,000 worth of wage claims due to nonpayment against the Haugs. The Haugs disputed one complaint filed in December 2020, and the Labor Relations Division dismissed other complaints filed by freelance contributors in August 2021 because independent contractors are not covered by the New Mexico Wage Payment Act.

Jeff Pollock was thrilled to have found a buyer for his business, Santa Fe Print and Images, an offshoot of a business he started in 1997, so he could finally retire. Pollock tells SFR the new buyers, the Haugs, “talked a great game.”

He handed the Haugs the keys after financing the $300,000 sale of his business over three years.

In short order, Pollock says, the Haugs began missing payments, eventually defaulting on the contract in August.

“That automatically gave me the company back,” Pollock says. “With that, I got all the debts, all the problems, all the tax issues that she didn’t take care of and pay.”

Pollock’s business relies on professional relationships with vendors and artists to produce logos and signs. Since regaining control of the company, Pollock says he’s learned many of these previously established contacts were not compensated under the Haugs’ leadership.

Pollock contends that just before the business defaulted back to him, the Haugs inexplicably took $40,000 from business bank accounts, along with removing financial documents that he says are necessary to run the business. So Pollock sued the couple in state District Court, alleging withholding some of the business’s property and seeking injunctive relief through the return of documents and technology.

Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne granted a temporary restraining order on Oct. 12, meaning the Haugs must turn over financial documents to the printing business to allow Pollock to continue with operations.

The Haugs have not filed a response, according to court records, but a series of emails between the couple and Pollock’s lawyers shows that they don’t believe they owe the longtime owner of the business a dime.

Prior to moving to Santa Fe, the Haugs owned Enchantment Energy Inc, a land service business in Colorado. The business is listed as “delinquent” on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, a designation that followed the company’s failure to supply a Periodic Report to the state in February 2019.

Many of those SFR spoke with describe a similar experience with the Haugs’ practices: an initial abundance of energy, then less and less communication and, in the end, dead silence.

Fein, the longtime Santa Fean contributor, wrote for the magazine over the course of the Haugs’ ownership. Her husband, Paul Ross, a photographer, also contributed. When one of Fein’s paychecks bounced, she says she picked up the phone.

“I said, ‘Kelly, we just did a lot of work for you,’” Fein tells SFR, adding that Kelly Haug apologized and immediately dropped off another check.

Over time, the checks stopped coming, Fein says. Communication with Kelly Haug became near impossible. Ross went to the magazine’s office to track down their payment.

By July all communication from the Haugs ceased, leaving Fein, Ross and other contributors in the dark, Fein says. She estimates that she and Ross contributed about 13 articles that were never published, and more than anything, they felt they had let down the restaurants and businesses featured in their work around Northern New Mexico.

“Everybody was excited to be featured,” Fein says. “And then they weren’t, because it wasn’t published. And we felt...very responsible to all the people.”

While some, like Pollock, are pursuing legal action against the Haugs, others say they’ve resigned themselves to forgoing payment for their work “for the simple reason that it would likely take more time and money to pursue than it would be worth,” Elder writes to SFR.

For the contractors and employees who say they were stiffed, the option of small claims court doesn’t offer much reassurance.

“When she did finally shut down, and by that I mean, turn out the lights and lock the door in August, there was never any word of explanation to any of us,” Elder says. “Much less any kind of apology to the staff or the contractors.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the mail center in Eldorado.

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