TORRANCE COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – The State Auditor’s office has completed its three-year investigation of Torrance County’s financial dealings and the actions of County Manager Joy Ansley. The audit reveals massive cost overruns on county projects all of which involved the same contractor, a failure to put many projects out for public bid as required by law, a practice of paying for work before it had begun and paying for work that was never performed.
Joy Ansley and Chris Valdez, owner of CCS construction, cited in the audit were facing felony fraud and conspiracy charges in relation to their dealings on county projects. Those charges were dismissed in late November but could be refiled.
The state audit looked at all the construction projects performed by CCS Construction between January 1, 2007 and April 2012 following a fraud hotline complaint. It alleged a conflict of interest. As a note, a preliminary hearing on the charges against Ansley and Valdez in 2014 revealed a possible romantic relationship between the pair.
In the audit, the State Auditor’s office said purchasing regulations were violated and “it appears the County Manager overrode the procurement authority of the Deputy County Manager.” The audit also questions “whether the County Manager and other county officials acted in the best interest of the county or received the best obtainable price for public works projects awarded to CCS Construction”
The audit reveals problems with 17 projects performed by CCS Construction over the five year period. One of the most notable is the Torreon Fire Department addition. CCS submitted a bid of $79,781 but the final cost was nearly $260,000. Another standout, the voting machine storage building project which was bid at $23,206 by CCS Construction but ended up costing the county $167,239. A third project with a huge cost overrun was the Torreon Park Project bid at $12,658 by CCS construction but the final cost reached $82,963. In all cases the final cost far exceeded the highest bid which came from another company. In all, the audit cites $743,723 in charges to CCS Construction that lacked sufficient documentation or justification.
The audit also finds CCS Construction marked up the cost of goods and services provided by subcontractors. In one case CCS charged the county $108,000 for work that the subcontractor billed $29,000.
The audit also found several projects that were paid for were never completed. It also found that CCS Construction was often paid for work before it had even obtained the necessary permits to begin work.
An examination of the projects also revealed that the county failed to follow the competitive sealed bid process. In some cases only two bids were obtained via telephone: one from CCS Construction and one from A-Wall Builders which is owned by the father of CCS Construction owner Chris Valdez.
The audit concludes the process in Torrance County allows for preferential treatment and overpayment for certain contractors. It also cites a number of steps which must be taken to prevent it in the future.
While the audit does cite the violation of state law, it would be up to the Attorney General’s Office to determine if any criminal charges should be filed in this case. Gary King was Attorney General when the charges were filed against Joy Ansley and Chris Valdez and later dismissed. Hector Balderas who was State Auditor when this audit was conducted has now taken the Attorney General’s seat.