Longtime city employee Martin Lujan no longer will head the city of Santa Fe’s Recreation Division, following allegations from managers that he tried to defraud the city by padding a contract.
Public documents obtained by The New Mexican this week show Lujan, a former school board member and onetime City Council candidate, exchanged email messages with his brother, Larry Lujan, about how to “get paid” for tickets to sporting events and travel to Florida with city funds that were supposed to be used to promote a youth wrestling tournament in Santa Fe.
Human Resources Department records show Lujan has been on paid administrative leave since July 9. City Manager Robert Romero said in an interview Tuesday that he couldn’t comment on a personnel matter involving Lujan, but “as of Aug. 14, Lujan will no longer be employed by the city.”
Romero confirmed that in May, he gave Martin Lujan tentative approval to use city marketing funds to pay about $6,000 toward the costs of the 2012 AAU Grand National Wrestling tournament and for an advertisement in the program for the early June event — all planned through the Santa Fe Junior Wrestling Association by his brother, Larry Lujan, who also once was employed by the city.
“In my opinion, it was legitimate,” Romero said Tuesday of the proposal. “It was supporting youth, supporting local wrestling, promoting economic development because it would bring a national tournament to Santa Fe. It looked like a reasonable thing.”
Emails obtained through a public-records request show that a technical procurement issue held up the city funds. Since the payment was for an amount above $5,000, procurement rules require a professional services agreement rather than a simple purchase order. As managers went looking for evidence to support payment for the contract, information they found raised a red flag.
Documents provided to the newspaper show that on June 19, weeks after the tournament, Larry Lujan submitted two sets of invoices from the wrestling group to Martin Lujan for payment by the city, one dated May 4 for $6,000 and another dated June 1 for $750. Another invoice had the figure $6,320. Emails between the brothers appear to show that they intended to use some of the money to pay for travel.
“Yo .. this looks like the old invoice,” Martin Lujan wrote to Larry on June 19 on a city email account.
“Cost is the same in order to get u your full reimbursement,” Larry Lujan replied.
“Lol .. i guess you forgot what was agreed and what you signed when we meet (sic) in the restaurant. Can’t submit for payment without an invoice,” Martin wrote back.
Larry’s next email, sent the following day, offered his brother a cost breakdown listing an “NCAA ticket” for $450, car rental, hotel room and airline ticket totalling $1,342. The next message to Martin says, “I was going to add your FL ticket to cover your expense NOT just your ticket but the cost of the AD. Lets meet and discuss this issue.”
After city Purchasing Director Robert Rodarte wrote to Martin Lujan that he needed a detailed description of services for which the city was being asked to pay, Lujan sent a message to City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez to complain that Rodarte’s request was “bullshit.”
Dominguez, who served on the Santa Fe school board with Lujan and had help from Lujan on Dominguez’s most recent re-election campaign, said he was unsure why Lujan forwarded him the message from Rodarte, but said, “I imagine he was pretty frustrated.”
The councilor said he fully supports the idea of the city putting marketing money toward a wrestling tournament. Dominguez said he didn’t know the details of Lujan’s personnel situation and was unaware of any alleged impropriety involving a contract.
“I believe that in the course of business, there are always going to be questions, and there is a chain of command and a process that needs to be adhered to,” he said. “The city manager is really in charge of making sure that the process is followed.”
Martin Lujan referred inquiries to his attorney, Nathaniel Thompkins, who said Lujan was informed late Tuesday that his employment was terminated after the city manager and department head Ike Pino alleged problems with the wrestling tournament deal.
Thompkins said Romero is wrong and that Martin Lujan was really standing up to demands made by his brother that the city pay more than was originally agreed upon.
“He [Romero] relies on two emails, neither of which communicate what the department director says it communicates,” Thompkins said. “They were saying the emails show something they didn’t.”
The city agreed to pay $6,000 for “hosting fees” and to place two ads in a program for the event, Thompkins said, and was never asked by the wrestling association to pay more. Martin was “being flippant” when he responded to his brother’s remarks about Florida, the lawyer said.
“There was no trip to Florida,” Thompkins said, adding later, “The city said that didn’t matter because they [Martin and Larry] were conspiring. In order to conspire, there has to be a trip. There was no trip.”
The city manager declined to comment when asked whether issues with the wrestling tournament were among reasons for Lujan’s departure. However, he noted that the city hasn’t paid any money on the contract involving the wrestling event, held June 6 to 9 at Santa Fe High School.
Romero said that at the time of his initial approval of the proposal, it didn’t bother him that a city contract was being handled by two brothers. But in hindsight, he said, that made him uneasy. “I knew he was talking to his brother,” Romero said, “but I was not sure until afterward that it was his brother who was doing the invoices.”
Martin Lujan has held a number of sports-related jobs for the city, where he has been employed since 1994. He worked his way through the ranks from youth program section manager to Genoveva Chavez Community Center director, then became administrative manager at the Municipal Recreation Complex until his most recent promotion, in October 2010, to Recreation Division director, where he is paid $40.80 an hour.
He served two terms on the Santa Fe school board from 2001 to 2009, when he lost a re-election bid to Barbara Gudwin. He unsuccessfully sought a City Council seat in 2008. During that campaign, he was criticized for using an address inside the city limits as his place of residence on a candidate form while his family home remained outside the city. Although Lujan claimed to live at the city address during the campaign, city utility billing records showed very little water was used there.
A résumé he provided to The New Mexican in 2008 said he worked with the Santa Fe Junior Wrestling Association between 2001 and 2004.
Larry Lujan worked for the city from 1983 until his retirement from the job of Municipal Recreation Complex manager in 2010. He did not reply to phone and email requests for interviews on Tuesday.
Romero said the city didn’t plan to file a police report regarding the incident because legal advisers said it doesn’t appear to rise to the level of being a criminal matter.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or email@example.com.