Journal: Gov's top aide charged personal purchases to state

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Governor Martinez’s administration came to Santa Fe on a promise to play by the rules and be a good watchdog of the public dollar. But secret emails, mismanaged audits and hidden travel records are becoming the norm rather than the exception when it comes to transparency and accountability on the 4th (and 5th floor). Today, the ABQ Journal’s Thom Cole comes with a story of the governor’s top aide, Chief of Staff Keith Gardner, breaking state purchasing rules for years by charging nearly $5,000 in personal expenses on his state credit card. From Cole:

Gov.’s top aide charged personal purchases to state

From a necktie to heartburn medication, from personal cellphone bills to new tires, Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff used his government-issued credit card to make thousands of dollars in personal purchasesin violation of state policy andprocedures.Keith Gardner has reimbursed the state nearly $5,000 since August 2012 for more than 40 card purchases at Walmart, Best Buy, Target and more. And after a Journal inquiry, he has paid $241 in interest required under state policy and procedures when an employee uses a government credit card for personal purchases.Using a state government credit card for any purpose other than state business is prohibited. The policy and procedures say that if a card is misused, an agency shall follow disciplinary procedures up to termination and take away the card. Gardner, who is paid $136,350 a year, has kept the card and faced no discipline, but future charges must be approved in advance. Further, he said he hadn’t actually misused the card because there was no intent to defraud the state. Gardner said in a recent interview that his use of the government credit card to make personal purchases didn’t comply with policy and procedures and was “poor practice and sloppy,” but that the reimbursements were evidence he had no intent to enrich himself at taxpayer expense. He typically made reimbursements for purchases between one and three months after the transactions. “My intentions were always to make sure this was made whole,” he said. But in a change in practice, he said, the chief financial officer and one of the deputy chiefs of staff in the Governor’s Office must now give prior approval of any planned use by Gardner of his credit card… “I understand that my failure to follow the policies and procedures will result in disciplinary action against me including, but not limited to: suspension, termination of employment, and/or criminal prosecution,” the agreement says… Records produced by the DFA show Gardner reimbursed the state a total of $4,528 from August 2012 to February of this year. After the Journal request for the records, further reconciliation of the credit card account found another $448 in personal purchases by Gardner, according to an administration spokesman. He reimbursed the state for those transactions with a check dated April 11. On most of the reimbursement forms, the field for the purpose of the reimbursement was left blank. Lost receipt and wrong credit card were listed as purposes for a few reimbursements. In addition to purchases at Walmart, Best Buy and Target, Gardner reimbursed for purchases from AT&T, hotels, restaurants, airport gift shops, a provider of online entertainment, airlines, a tire shop in Phoenix and more. Among the items purchased and later reimbursed: a necktie at a Williamsburg, Va., hotel, heartburn medication and iPhone accessories from Walmart, car fresheners from Best Buy, a copy of the magazine Popular Science from an airport gift shop, a coin display case from Michaels and a Southwest Airlines fee for Gardner’s wife. It’s impossible to tell what all the reimbursed purchases were for, because the records don’t include receipts for most of the transactions. Gardner couldn’t recall what many of the purchases were for but explained some of the larger charges… Read the full story online at ABQJournal.com