SANTA FE (KRQE) – The Taxation and Revenue Department has been snatching up thousands of dollars in gear that could arm a small New Mexico police department. But it sits unused in a room collecting dust.
The Tax Fraud Investigations Division purchased the equipment that consists of $3,700 for nine Glock handguns, $3,900 for 9,000 rounds of ammunition, $2,300 for gun lock boxes. And much more was spent on bullet proof vests, handcuffs, headsets, Stealth Force boots, tactical knee pads and pepper spray.
“It’s really, really astounding that a non police agency would be buying that kind of armament and ammunition and firearms. It really seems like an exaggeration,” said Senator Jerry Ortiz Y Pino.
Description of Tax Fraud Investigations Division (TFRD):
“Conducts investigations of persons suspected of State of New Mexico criminal tax violations. In the investigative process the Bureau works to obtain the necessary evidence from financial records, witnesses and other sources in order to sustain tax-related convictions throughout the State of New Mexico judicial system.”
The Tax Fraud Investigations Division investigates tax fraud cases. In some cases they serve search warrants on homes and businesses to catch tax cheats. Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla says it can be a dangerous job.
“We’re not dealing with individuals who are willingly going to open up their doors for them or going to open up their records for them,” Padilla said. “We have to be very careful with the safety of our employees.”
The department also purchased a $275 battering ram. Padilla says it’s necessary.
“When we execute our own search warrants, if they don’t open the door and we have a search warrant we have the ability to open the door,” she said.
But that’s the problem. Padilla’s staff can’t use any of the gear to execute a search warrant. The Tax Fraud Investigations Division currently doesn’t have anybody on staff that has a police certification, required to execute a warrant. In the past staff have attended the state’s 16-week law enforcement academy to get the certification. But in the 10 years since the creation of the division, only two people have completed the course. The last person left in May.
Padilla said her staff find other jobs and leave. So the guns and tactical gear sits, collecting dust.
“A lot of money being spent on stuff that will never be used. It will sit on the shelf. It’s made a nice profit for some local businesses. It’s taxpayers’ money down the drain,” said Ortiz Y Pino.
Today, if the Tax Fraud Investigations Division wants to serve a search warrant, they tag along with law enforcement. Padilla said it can be hard to work on an officer’s schedule. In tax fraud cases, agents have to move quickly to preserve tax documents and evidence.
“We’re also having to wait for police officers to be available and sometime white collar crime is not on the top priority,” she said.
Padilla said she’ll have two or three employees certified by January so they can start executing search warrants and begin using some of the equipment. She said she’s looking at ways to keep her agents so the gear can be put to use.