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Cultural Foundation spent state fresco money on salaries, lobbying

14 April 2011 Written by:

“Totally false.”

That’s how National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation President Clara Apodaca responded last November to allegations by a former Center board member that the Foundation had misappropriated state funds intended for completion of a fresco painting at the Center’s Torreon Building in Albuquerque.

Apodaca flatly denied Matt Martinez’s Nov. 18 allegations that the Foundation had paid salaries and other operational expenses from the $812,500 lawmakers appropriated in 2007 and 2008 solely for work on the fresco.

The nonprofit Foundation’s mission is to raise money for the Center, which is run by the N.M. Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). The state fresco appropriations were sent directly to the Foundation to manage, rather than to the DCA or Center, records show.

Apodaca told reporters in November that the Foundation had used state fresco money for production of the painting, just as intended by lawmakers.

But Foundation and DCA documents obtained by Veritas New Mexico suggest that between 20 and 25 percent of the state fresco money actually went toward Foundation salaries – including Apodaca’s own.

Apodaca would not speak or schedule an interview with Veritas Wednesday. Apodaca had canceled previously scheduled interviews.

But in a Dec. 3 report to Stuart Ashman, who was then the DCA cabinet secretary, Apodaca appeared to acknowledge that money from the appropriations was used to reimburse the Foundation for lobbying, meals and Foundation salary expenses incurred between 2006 and 2008.

The two-page report’s cover letter indicates that $162,500 (or 20 percent) of the state money went to reimburse those expenses.

But the report’s second page, a set of tables summarizing those expenses, actually totals much more: $211,000, or more than 25 percent of the state’s fresco appropriations — including $90,000 for Apodaca’s time lobbying lawmakers, attending fundraising meetings and talking to national travel journalists.

The report also summarizes $25,000 in “hard costs,” including $12,000 in breakfasts and lunches with elected officials, travel journalists and “potential funders.”

No explanation for overdue audits

Santa Fe muralist Frederico Vigil recently completed the fresco after nearly a decade of work on the 4,000 square-foot interior walls of the Center’s cylindrical Torreon. But the building still needs lighting and visitor seating, Romero confirmed.

According to the Foundation’s IRS tax filings, Apodaca was paid $120,750 as Foundation chief executive officer and president in 2008, the latest year for which Foundation tax filings have been provided to the IRS.

Asked Wednesday for the Foundation’s tax returns for 2009 and 2010, Foundation Director of Development Kim Moss told Veritas extensions had been filed with the IRS pending completion of the Foundation’s annual audits.

No explanation was offered for the audit delays.

Nor has the Foundation explained the audit and tax filing delays to Center officials, according to interim Center director Gary P. Romero.

The Foundation’s support for the Center has waned sharply over the past year, since Martinez and Center officials began voicing concerns about the management of state grants for the Torreon fresco.

The current fiscal year’s support from the Foundation has been between $52,000 and $78,000 in grant money, Romero said Wednesday.

“Those are the numbers they’re reporting to us when we’ve tried to get them to tell us what’s going on,” Romero said.

Director of Finance Patricia O’Brien is the most recent of four Foundation financial officers to serve over the past year and a half, Romero confirmed.

Apodaca dismissed Martinez’s allegations in November as bitter grapes.

Martinez made his first public allegations about the Foundation’s financial mismanagement Nov. 18, but had been raising similar concerns for more than a year before he was removed from the Center board by then-governor Bill Richardson, he told Veritas.

Martinez had served on the board for 14 years.

“He’s angry he was taken off the board,”Apodaca told reporters Nov. 18, while denying she had any involvement with Martinez’s removal from the board.

But in a Dec. 13 e-mail to Ashman, Apodaca suggested Richardson may have removed Martinez from the board as a favor to her.

“I think this guy (Matt) has had his 15 minutes of fame,” Apodaca wrote. “Nobody seems to know him but the Governor did tell someone just recently that he removed Matt for me (ouch).”

The Torreon Building is open to the public Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., Romero said.

Photo by Peter St. Cyr.

Documents cited in this story

Former National Hispanic Cultural Center board member Matt Martinez’s written allegations read to the board during a public comment period of the Nov. 18, 2010 board meeting

Dec 3, 2010 Foundation accounting report on use of state fresco funds for lobbying

National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation 2008 IRS tax filing

Apodaca’s Dec. 13, 2010 e-mail to Ashman


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