Javier Benavidez says the man who filed the complaint against him tried to shake him down for money.
A private investigation that supports a campaign ethics complaint against City Council candidate Javier Benavidez was so flawed that it can’t even be characterized as an investigation, members of the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices were told Wednesday.
That characterization came from an investigator — former U.S. Secret Service agent Dennis Maez — who was hired by Benavidez’s campaign.
And Benavidez, who is running for the council seat in District 1, says that the man who filed the complaint against him, Carlos McMahon, tried to shake him down for money in June. Court documents show that McMahon, who recently changed his name from Carlos Villanueva, is under indictment in Albuquerque for voter fraud and perjury.
“I’m embarrassed to even classify this as an investigation,” Maez said during a six-hour hearing Wednesday before the ethics board, which heard evidence in the complaint against Benavidez. “No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it’s still a pig. This fell short of even the most basic best practices. It has no credibility whatsoever.”
The complaint against Benavidez alleges that some of his campaign volunteers violated city law in the way they collected $5 donations so Benavidez could qualify for $38,000 in public financing. Some of the volunteers “loaned” the $5 to registered voters, and some told voters they could contribute less than $5, the complaint said.
Maez and Benavidez’s attorney, David Urias, suggested that McMahon coerced and badgered voters into signing affidavits that were used to support the complaint against Benavidez. And they suggested that McMahon might have violated the state’s notary public law by improperly notarizing affidavits. The improprieties included notarizing one affidavit two days before the registered voter signed it, and notarizing affidavits that had no signatures on them.
But the biggest allegation against McMahon came from Benavidez, who on July 21 filed an affidavit with the ethics board that detailed what he said was a shakedown attempt by McMahon, who apparently was still going by the last name of Villanueva.
On June 12th, Villanueva walked into Benavidez’s office at the Southwest Organizing Project. Here’s how Benavidez’s affidavit described the scene:
“That’s when Carlos brought out his binder of ‘opposition research’ on me (including photos of my family’s residence and our vehicles), as well as the beginnings of a case that he said he was going to compile against me for ‘defrauding’ the public finance system.
“He then showed an invoice he was going to submit to the ‘attorney’ that was paying him for that work — it was in the neighborhood of $5,500 — and said that I didn’t have to pay him the full amount, but that if I would help him recoup some of it, he would never turn over the binder. I immediately told him that I wanted nothing to do with any of it and walked him out of our office.
“He asked that I stay in touch with him and I have subsequent text messages and calls from him that I never responded to; the whole interaction struck me as extremely unscrupulous.”
Under questioning form Urias, McMahon denied that he tried to shakedown Benavidez and he denied that he improperly notarized affidavits.
Benavidez qualified in May for public campaign financing. He was required to collect $5 donations from at least 381 voters, or 1 percent of the registered voters in the district. Benavidez turned in 455 donations, and the City Clerk’s office accepted 399 of them as valid.
In October 2016, Villenueva was indicted by a Bernalillo County grand jury on three counts of unlawful absentee applications, three counts of unlawful possession of an absentee ballot and one count of perjury.
That case is still pending.