New Mexico auditor says ex-police chief got perks from Taser

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Posted: May 01, 2015 4:18 AM
New Mexico auditor says ex-police chief got perks from Taser

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's state auditor outlined what he called a troubling pattern of perks and consulting work heaped upon the former Albuquerque police chief by Taser International as it secured a lucrative no-bid contract to supply officers with body cameras.

Auditor Tim Keller forwarded his findings to prosecutors, who will decide if Ray Schultz broke the law in his dealings with Taser. Keller believes Schultz committed "substantial violations" of city and state ethics laws in his dealings with Taser called the case a "rampant disregard for all of those things that protect our taxpayer dollars."

The investigation brings more tumult to the Albuquerque Police Department as it deals with the fallout over a U.S. Justice Department investigation and a rash of police shootings. Brought in as a reformer in 2005, Schultz stepped down in 2013 under a cloud of bad morale.

"You want the police chief of the Albuquerque Police Department to be this sort of shining star in public office. In this case, it points to the opposite direction," Keller said.

Schultz is now assistant police chief in Memorial Villages, Texas. His attorney, Luis Robles, said Schultz didn't do anything wrong, adding that the city budget office led the procurement process and his successor made the final decision to award the contract.

Keller said Schultz gave Taser an unfair advantage for the 2013 contract in the final days of his tenure, even sending a Taser salesman an email saying the process was "greased." The same day, the two discussed his prospective employment as a consultant, which would later take him to Amsterdam, Australia and elsewhere to speak about technology on the company's dime.

Keller said flaws in city purchasing processes and weak oversight improperly allowed Taser to win the award without competition. He said it was also inappropriate for Schultz and other department employees to accept trips, meals and a party at a San Diego nightclub that were paid for by Taser.

Gilbert Montaño, spokesman for Mayor Richard Berry, said the city has halted monthly contract payments to Taser for the last seven months as it conducts a comprehensive review of the contract. The internal controls failed under Schultz, and the city made changes "to ensure that that type of circumvention of the process does not occur again," he said.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taser has become a leader in the fast-growing market for cameras that officers wear on their uniforms. But its relationships with police officials have raised ethics questions. The company has covered airfare, hotels and meals for chiefs and associates who attend its training and networking events and hired Schultz and two other chiefs as consultants within weeks or months after they retired.

Taser general counsel Doug Klint said the company believes it complied with ethics guidelines in Albuquerque. But going forward, Taser will implement a one year cooling-off period for consulting contracts with former law enforcement officials to "eliminate any perception of conflict of interest."

Schultz may have violated ordinances that ban employees from influencing purchasing decisions while negotiating employment with vendors and that require ex-employees to wait one year before representing certain companies, Keller's report said.

District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and Attorney General Hector Balderas said they were reviewing the matter.

Schultz began early retirement Sept. 7, 2013, but remained on Albuquerque's payroll through Jan. 1, 2014. He began his Taser consulting as he was still getting his city salary, Keller said.

As the department considered body cameras in 2012, Schultz and a deputy were guests at a Taser-sponsored party at Stingaree Night Club in San Diego during a national conference. Two others traveled on an all-expenses paid trip to Taser's headquarters to learn how to use its Evidence.com storage software.

Albuquerque's first major purchase of body cameras, in March 2013, avoided competitive bidding by improperly relying on an earlier contract for other Taser equipment, Keller said. City officials justified the subsequent $1.95 million contract by saying a pilot program determined Taser's cameras performed the best but auditors didn't find documentation that other models were tested.

Despite Schultz's promotion of body cameras for Taser, a Justice Department report has blasted the city's hasty implementation of them, saying officers were not given enough training and were failing to record some incidents in which they used force.

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Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa.