One of the highest-ranking officials at the Los Alamos National Lab abruptly announced his resignation from the lab this week, following more than 15 years of employment with the institution.
Richard “Rich” Marquez, executive director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, informed lab Director Charles McMillan that he would be leaving the lab, effective immediately, according to an internal memo sent by McMillan to lab employees dated Feb. 11 and obtained by the New Mexican.
The reason for his sudden resignation from a job that paid $492,000 a year is unknown. Marquez did not respond to several requests for comment on Thursday and lab officials declined comment. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Safety Administration did not return emails seeking comment.
Craig Leasure, principal associate director for operations and business, has stepped in as interim executive director, and many of Marquez’s other responsibilities will be distributed among the executive leadership team, the memo goes on to say.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Marquez had worked for the Department of Energy in Albuquerque for several years before starting at the lab in 2001, where he first served as the associate director for administration, a role that included human resources management and securing property procurement.
After four years in this role, Marquez was promoted to executive director, the third-highest ranking management position at the lab, directly below Deputy Director Rich Kacich and Director McMillan.
Last August Marquez was charged with four offenses in a domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend. The charges included battery against a household member, false imprisonment, interference with communication and larceny under $500. Marquez denied the charges and they were dismissed a few weeks later when the woman told prosecutors she did not want to pursue the case.
The girlfriend told police Marquez had been monitoring her cellphone and refused to leave her home when asked. She also said Marquez physically prevented her from leaving and “tackled” her to take her car keys away from her. When she attempted to call the police, he took her phone. He then blocked her driveway with his truck. The girlfriend asked her neighbor to call the police.
Marquez denied the woman’s account of the exchange at the time, and the woman told the police she did not want to file a report “because her boyfriend was ‘well connected’ and she did not want to get him into trouble.”
The girlfriend also showed police an email she said Marquez had written and sent from her computer saying she intended to “destroy his career.” Marquez told police he couldn’t access her computer and accused the girlfriend of writing the email.
The woman’s and Marquez’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. It’s unknown whether the incident played any role in Marquez’s decision to leave the lab.
Marquez’s resignation comes at a turbulent time for the lab. On Dec. 18, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, a subsection of the Department of Energy, announced the lab’s $2.2 billion annual contract would not be renewed when it expires in September 2017 and would instead be put up for bid.
The decision not to renew the contract was based on a slew of safety violations, the most notable related to an improperly packaged drum of nuclear waste, which burst and contaminated areas of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant with radiation. The safety violation forced the plant to close indefinitely and resulted in a $74 million settlement between the lab, WIPP and the New Mexico Environment Department for violating the state’s permit.
The lab is currently run by a consortium led by the University of California and Bechtel Corporation.
Marquez’s tenure had survived other problems at the lab, including the discovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases under the guise of purchasing lab equipment that occurred while he was in charge of procurement and property management. Though Marquez was not implicated in the schemes, some lab employees testifying in front of a congressional oversight committee blamed him and other lab officials for failings that allowed the fraud to happen and of trying to obstruct an investigation into it. As a result of that scandal, Director John Browne and Principle Deputy Director Joseph Salgado resigned, and 16 other high ranking employees were dismissed or transferred. Two other employees were arrested and served timed in prison.
The workers hired to investigate the fraud, Steven Doran and Glenn Walp, were fired abruptly in 2002, and publicly called their termination an effort to “cover-up” wrongdoings at the lab. An investigation later found they were wrongfully terminated.
On Feb. 1, Doran, Walp and Chuck Montano, an author and former auditor for the lab, filed a request to U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Damon Martinez requesting the investigation be reopened. The parties also sought for Martinez to investigate the apparent suicide of Richard Bruick, former deputy director of operations, who was found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot a year following his retirement in 2002, a death they believe to be suspect.
A spokesperson for Martinez said his office would not comment on whether the request was being considered.
Both Montano and Walp said Thursday that should an investigation be reopened, Marquez would be “at the top of [the] list” for questioning.
“Mr. Marquez knows where all the bodies are buried,” Walp said.