A woman who last year filed a sexual harassment complaint against then-Chief of New Mexico State Police Pete Kassetas said Friday a recorded conversation between Gov. Susana Martinez’s husband and a state police bodyguard explains why Martinez kept Kassetas as chief despite several complaints about his behavior toward women.
Amy Orlando, a longtime friend of Martinez who served as general counsel for the state Department of Public Safety, said finding the recording was “an aha moment.”
In a news release, Orlando, who was a prosecutor under Martinez when the latter was district attorney in Las Cruces, said, “Until the tape came to light, which demonstrated the nature of alleged events that Kassetas had knowledge of, no one understood why a female governor, after initially agreeing to take action against Kassetas, suddenly did a 180 and supported keeping Pete Kassetas.”
The recording of Martinez’s husband, Chuck Franco, was made by former police Sgt. Julia Armendariz, who once headed Martinez’s security detail. Armendariz, who is part of another case against Kassetas that was settled in late December, has said Martinez insisted she call Franco and record him.
KRQE-TV has reported that sources said New Mexico’s first couple was having marital problems at the time and that Franco made “politically explosive” comments about his wife.
Orlando’s statements Friday came in a news release issued by lawyers representing Orlando and two other former Department of Public Safety employees, Terri Thornberry and Dianna DeJarnette. Their cases were among several complaints alleging sexual discrimination and other misdeeds by Kassetas that were settled in the final days of Martinez’s administration. The settlements, which were sealed until 2023, reportedly totaled $1.7 million.
Armendariz’s lawyers said this week they did not learn of the recording until December, just days before a scheduled mediation session. The state contacted the lawyers, they said, and asked whether any of their clients had any evidence in their possession, such as recordings. When they asked one of their clients about this, she revealed she had the Franco recording.
Kassetas denied the complaints against him in a recent interview with KRQE and said the lawyers who filed the complaints tried to “extort” the state government.
But Orlando’s lawyers, Allegra Carpenter and Erika Anderson, said in their news release, “The tape recorded information never was nor would have been disclosed publicly by the Kassetas victims and rather was intended within the mediation process only to demonstrate the nature of what Kassetas was using to keep himself in power.
“The irony, is that the claimants were and remain the ones who would be discreet regarding the alleged facts involving the former governor, yet they are being blamed for disclosures which they did not make,” the statement continued. “Meanwhile, Pete Kassetas has gone to the press with teasers about the governor’s personal life.”
Said Orlando, “He, not we, is misusing the evidence.”
Orlando, like Martinez, a Republican, praised current Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for saying this week her administration would not enforce part of confidentiality clauses in the settlements that prohibit the parties from discussing details of the agreements until 2023. The Governor’s Office also has said it will make the actual settlements public long before 2023.
Martinez has denied any involvement in the settlements.
Among the allegations made in at least one of the complaints was that Kassetas had sent a picture of a man’s testicles to Orlando and that he once told her that boots she was wearing “made him feel all hot and bothered.” Another claim was that Kassetas had referred to Orlando and another lawyer with the department as “dumb [expletive] bitches.”
Kassetas has denied thr accusations. And when the allegations were made public last year in the lawsuit filed by Armendariz, former Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs and former Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones, a spokesman for the governor said the allegations in the suit were part of “a wild-eyed conspiracy theory.”
A lawyer for Kassetas couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
The news release Friday also complained about state Auditor Brian Colón’s announced plan to investigate whether the state properly handled the settlements, saying he has a close personal relationship with Kassetas.
Colón and Kassetas “considered themselves best friends through elementary and high school and were roommates in college,” the release states. “They have been known to refer to one another as ‘cousins.’ When Colón was running to become mayor of Albuquerque, Pete Kassetas openly proclaimed his ‘cousin’ would appoint him as [Albuquerque police chief]. Colón lost and Kassetas remained as chief of New Mexico State Police, but when the Martinez Administration ended, Colón took action to encourage the new administration to keep Kassetas in his position.”
Colón on Friday admitted that he and Kassetas were friends in high school but said they were never college roommates. Asked about calling each other cousins, he said, “I call a lot of people ‘brother,’ but I’ve only got one actual brother. … I might have called him ‘cousin.’ ”
The auditor denied he tried to convince newly elected fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham to retain Kassetas as chief.
The lawyers in their news release also said, “When any member of the Kassetas family (including Pete Kassetas, his former wife, and his brother) gave money to a political candidate they gave only and exclusively to Brian Colón.”
State campaign finance records show Kassetas, his brother and his former wife contributed a total of $400 to Colón in the 2010 election cycle, when he was ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. The only other contributions from Kassetas and family members — totalling $80 — were made last year to Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales.
Colón said the purpose of his investigation is only to determine whether proper procedures were used in reaching the settlements.
In recent days, Lujan Grisham’s office has ordered a review of how such settlements are handled, and state Attorney General Hector Balderas has confirmed his office is reviewing complaints about the payouts.
Carpenter and Anderson said they and their clients opposed the four-year sealing of the settlements and have proposed legislation to ban “any confidentiality terms involving sexual harassment and discrimination settlements.”