Man once accused of bilking city returns to Santa Fe payroll

A former city employee who resigned from the Santa Fe Police Department after he was accused of billing the city for hours he didn’t work has been rehired by the administration of Mayor Alan Webber.

Patrick Lucero, who oversaw the police department’s DWI and speed van program for two years until his June 2015 resignation, landed a $93,600-a-year job at City Hall late last year as a project manager in the Finance Department.

Lucero supported Webber’s candidacy for mayor in 2018; Webber touted Lucero’s endorsement on social media.

“Thank you for your support, Pat Lucero!” Webber wrote on Facebook in March 2018 in a post that included Lucero’s picture and a copy of a letter to the editor that Lucero wrote, encouraging Santa Feans to vote for Webber.

In his job application, Lucero listed District 3 City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta among his professional references, according to documents obtained under a public records request. Lucero actively campaigned for Abeyta last year, even going door to door with the council candidate, who was a key supporter of Webber on the city’s south side during the 2018 mayoral campaign.

In 2014, the police department investigated Lucero for “chronic tardiness or absenteeism, unauthorized leave or job abandonment and actions which reflect poorly upon the integrity of the city” after officials discovered discrepancies regarding his whereabouts during work hours, according to internal police documents obtained by The New Mexican.

A source who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation said Webber, City Manager Erik Litzenberg and Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar were sent a packet of information outlining the allegations against Lucero after Lucero applied for a different job with the city last year.

The Mayor’s Office said in an email that the city had no record of the allegations against Lucero.

“If this ‘referenced investigation’ existed, any disciplinary action would have been in Mr. Lucero’s official Human Resources file and that is not the case. According to his official Human Resources file, there are no documents that reference an investigation or a disciplinary action related to an investigation,” the city wrote.

“If information for a former employee is being kept somewhere outside of their official Human Resources documents and being released apart from the official [Inspection of Public Records Act] process,” the city added, “that would be deeply concerning.”

The city also said Lucero, who was hired to work on a multimillion-dollar technology modernization initiative, brought to the city experience implementing a similar system in state government and more than 28 years of work experience.

The personnel file of any former employee who is seeking employment with the city again is reviewed as part of the city’s human resources policy, the city said.

“Mr. Lucero was deemed eligible for re-hire based on City of Santa Fe Human Resources policies and procedures,” the city said.

Lucero’s hiring is the latest to raise questions about how certain individuals have gotten jobs at City Hall under Webber’s administration.

“Why has the city hired a former employee investigated for time card fraud to lead the implementation of [a technology modernization initiative] designed to create transparency?” Becky Casper, a former city employee who won a whistleblower lawsuit against the city, wrote in an email to the mayor and city councilors in February. “Was this administration aware that Patrick Lucero, who has a known affiliation with Roman Abeyta and Alan Webber, was supposedly deemed not eligible for rehire due to an internal fraud investigation by the SFPD when he was the City’s STOP Program Coordinator?”

The Mayor’s Office on Thursday declined to answer several questions about Lucero. A “Patrick Lucero” showed up on the mayor’s calendar on March 14, 2018 — two days after Webber took the oath of office — but the Mayor’s Office refused to say whether it was the same Patrick Lucero.

Lucero said late Thursday that he didn’t do anything wrong. He said he would only agree to an interview if the police department released all internal affairs files and if The New Mexican disclosed its source, among other conditions. (The newspaper declined to do so.)

“Give me a fair shot and don’t try to crucify me, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

Lucero later described himself as an honest, ethical person who received positive performance reviews.

“I left in good standing,” he said, adding it was unlikely he would have gotten a job with the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management after he worked at the police department if he had a bad disciplinary record.

Internal police memos paint a different picture.

According to the documents, Lucero repeatedly told Anthony Tapia, then the sergeant in charge of the DWI and Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program, or STOP, that he had to schedule appointments to meet with employees of the state Motor Vehicle Division.

“Mr. Lucero had been scheduling meetings in the afternoon around 2:30 pm and never returning to the office,” Tapia wrote in a June 2014 memo. “Mr. Lucero informed me the meetings ran several hours long due to him needing to assist in data entry with the dropped-off [automobile] titles. I had no reason to disbelieve Patrick on this and he continued with this pattern.”

But when Tapia went to MVD offices to correct a title that had been mixed up, he discovered only MVD employees could enter the office area and that the employee Lucero claimed to be meeting with hadn’t been handling titles for months. That same employee also told Tapia that she had never met with Lucero and that he only spent three to five minutes there.

Six days later, Tapia approached Lucero to conduct his annual evaluation.

“I know it’s going to be a bad review and I won’t sign it. I’m just going to tear it up,” Lucero told Tapia, documents state.

During their conversation, Lucero also bragged to Tapia about his connections to former Mayor Javier Gonzales, whom Lucero also actively campaigned for alongside Abeyta in 2014, as well as Webber when Webber was a candidate for governor, documents state.

At one point, Lucero told Tapia that Tapia should request a transfer out of the DWI and speed van program, documents state.

“I informed Mr. Lucero I would not request a transfer. Mr. Lucero said, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m stabbing you in the back so I will just tell you. If you don’t request a transfer, I will tell the new chief and mayor and they will remove you,’ ” Tapia wrote, referring to former police Chief Eric Garcia and Gonzales.

Four months later, now-retired police Lt. Marvin Paulk recommended disciplinary action against Lucero.

Paulk recommended a written reprimand for Lucero for chronic tardiness or absenteeism and unauthorized leave or job abandonment. He recommended suspension for “actions which reflect poorly upon the integrity”of the city.

“You cannot have the perception of wrongdoing or taking advantage of any process, liberty or function you are charged with based on your position,” Paulk wrote. “[Your] confrontational and accusational behavior during this investigation demonstrates poor conduct, therefore, given the totality of circumstances on each of the matters stated, I am recommending to the chief of police that you be suspended for this violation.”

It’s unclear whether Lucero was suspended by Garcia, the former police chief. Disciplinary action against city employees is confidential.

But Lucero wasn’t fired. He resigned seven months later.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.