‘They said it was a done deal and that they had the votes’ – Police union head Shawn Willoughby
Proposal Specifies Company with Ties to City Councilor
Councilors Balk, Want Retired Cops Contract to Go to Bid
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
AND DAN KLEIN
Mayor Richard Berry neglected to mention one thing in a news release his office issued Oct. 20 about a proposal to spend $1.3 million a year for three years to hire retired Albuquerque cops to respond to property crimes calls.
And that was: The fix was in.
The administration intended to give a no-bid contract to hire those retirees to a one-year-old company whose owner has business ties with the former campaign treasurer for City Councilor Brad Winter, who will be a co-sponsor of the resolution to give the city the authority to hire the company.
City Hall plans to give the no-bid contract to Aralant, Inc., a security services company incorporated on Aug. 24, 2015. Aralant’s owner, Charlie Rodriguez, has two other business ventures with Arthur Sonny Leeper, a retired APD officer who was Winter’s campaign treasurer in 2015.
Winter and Councilor Patrick Davis agreed to sponsor a resolution that would allow the city to spend $1.3 million a year on the pilot program to hire 25 retired cops as “community response specialists” who would answer property crime calls. According to The thinking is that having retired cops take reports for burglaries, auto thefts and other property crimes would free up APD officers to respond to more urgent emergency calls.
This is the latest attempt by the mayor to enlist retired APD officers to address the city’s police shortage. He previously tried unsuccessfully to push bills through the Legislature to allow retired cops to “double dip” – or come out of retirement and collect both police pay and their pensions.
Shawn Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said Berry’s proposal is an attempt to privatize law enforcement in the city and an effort by Berry to hide the fact that his policies have weakened the police department and led to a spike in crime in the city.
“These will not be city jobs; they will be privatizing police work,” Willoughby told ABQ Free Press Weekly. “Over the past six years they [Berry’s administration] have been incompetent in the management of APD and public safety, and this is just another example of that.”
Willoughby said that instead of contracting with a private company to hire retired cops, APD should hire more police service aides, who are eligible to become cops after two years on the job. “Why are they not putting the $1.3 million and investing that into the youth of Albuquerque?” Willoughby said. “Why aren’t they investing in the future of this department?”
Davis confirmed that the administration’s original draft of the resolution to start the pilot program included Aralant’s name and language that the city intended to give the firm the contract. He said that he and Winter insisted that Aralant’s name be removed from the legislation.
“The mayor’s proposal included one specific company that they wanted to issue the contract to,” Davis said. “But Councilor Winter and I removed the section and made the program conditional on the administration finding the money first.”
Davis also said that the administration told him and Winter that the city’s procurement code allows for large, no-bid contracts for pilot projects like this one.
Late Oct. 20, Davis emailed the newspaper to say that he had changed the proposal to ensure that it would go out to bid.
Winter said he didn’t know about Leeper’s business dealings with Rodriguez and said he would recuse himself from a vote on the proposal if Leeper is involved in it.
Berry’s office did not respond to an ABQ Free Press Weekly request to talk with someone about the proposal.
The administration’s news release said Davis and Winter intended to introduce the resolution shortly and that it would be heard by the council’s Finance and Government Operations Committee some time in November.
A done deal and connections
Willoughby said he had lunch on Oct. 20 with Rodriguez and said that during their conversation Rodriguez told him the retired cops plan was a done deal. Also at the lunch were Jack Jones, the former director of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, and Marie Sisi Miranda, a retired APD captain who also owns a security company. Jones is Aralant’s project manager, Rodriguez said.
“They said it was a done deal and that they had the votes,” Willoughby said, adding that he took the comment to also mean that Aralant would get the contract.
Rodriguez said he never told Willoughby that.
“Nothing has been awarded. It is not a done deal,” Rodriguez said in a telephone interview. “There is no contract. The whole thing is subject to the council, and if the council wants to blow it out of the sky, no harm, no foul.”
Willoughby said Aralant came up with the retired cops proposal and apparently took it to Berry’s office. The administration liked it and asked Davis and Winter to sponsor the legislation to authorize it, he said.
Rodriguez and Leeper are involved with two other businesses together. One is Law Enforcement Training International, Inc.. Rodriguez is a director and president of that firm, and Leeper is a director and vice president, according to its filing with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.
The other company is Visionary Instructional Services, Inc. Leeper is a director and its president, while Rodriguez is a director and its vice president, according to state corporate filings.
The mailing addresses for those two firms is 2700 Girard Blvd. NE., the same building that houses Desert Paper & Envelope Co., Inc., which is owned by Leeper’s wife, Ella Leeper.
Willoughby said he will work to kill the retired cops proposal and any effort to give a contract to Aralant.
“This is the most backward, asinine deal I have ever heard of in 15 years of law enforcement,” Willoughby said.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor of ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant who contributes to ABQ Free Press. Reach him through Facebook.