December 4, 2017

Complaint: Watchdog P.I. committed fraud, used intimidation

Joe Gratz


A self-proclaimed government watchdog could have his private investigator’s license revoked, depending on what a governing board could decide next month.

Another private investigator filed an official complaint with the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) last month against Carlos McMahon that alleged he obtained his private investigator license fraudulently and abused his position as an investigator.

McMahon has been in and out of the news since he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, his former place of employment, in 2010. At that time his name was Carlos Villanueva. He changed his last name to McMahon this June.

McMahon also garnered media attention when a grand jury indicted him for illegally obtaining absentee ballots under the names of three dead people.

During the most recent municipal election in Albuquerque, he filed an ethics complaint against a progressive city council candidate for breaking city election rules.

In November, Dennis Maez, a private investigator, filed an official complaint against McMahon and wants RLD to investigate. Maez alleged that McMahon has a history of intimidating people during investigations. Maez included a 13-page document with his complaint listing what he says shows McMahon’s history of intimidation tactics, as well as an instance of extortion and the use of a fraudulently-obtained private investigators license. The state’s Private Investigations Advisory Board, under RLD, is next scheduled to meet in January.

McMahon told NM Political Report that Maez’s report is inaccurate and doubts the advisory board will even take up the case.

Maez, a former U.S. Secret Service agent, also was in the news lately.

After Maez’s grandson Donovan Maez was charged with killing an Albuquerque teen in 2015, Dennis Maez investigated the case himself and sent the results to then-District Attorney Kari Brandenburg. Brandenburg subsequently cleared Donovan Maez of the charges.

Stephanie Maez*, Donovan’s mother and Dennis’ daughter resigned from her New Mexico House of Representatives seat after her son was charged.

Bird-dogging the watchdog

Attorneys Molly Schmidt-Nowara and David Urias hired Dennis Maez to look into McMahon’s tactics involving community activist and former Albuquerque City Council candidate Javier Benavidez. McMahon and former mayoral candidate Stella Padilla alleged in an ethics complaint against Benavidez that the candidate fraudulently obtained public funds when his campaign staff signed documents for voters. An Albuquerque ethics board found that Benavidez broke campaign rules and fined his campaign almost $2,000.

While investigating Benavidez’s campaign, McMahon said numerous people told him they did not sign public financing qualification documents. But Dennis Maez alleges McMahon intimidated people into signing those affidavits and then improperly notarized those statements.

“During the course of my inquiry I determined that McMahon appears to have violated New Mexico law on numerous occasions by knowingly and improperly using his Commission as a Notary Public, and his license as New Mexico Private Investigator to intimidate, threaten, and extort both elected officials, candidates for elected office, and citizens in order to benefit himself financially and further his political ideology,” Dennis Maez wrote in his report.

Dennis Maez’s report accuses McMahon of intimidating at least two voters over whether they signed a petition and donated $5 to help qualify Benavidez for public financing. In one instance  McMahon allegedly told a voter “This is a serious act right here and you know you could go to jail for this.”

McMahon told NM Political Report Dennis Maez’s allegations are “all false.”

“I have recordings to say otherwise,” McMahon said.

Earlier allegations

When conducting opposition research, political operatives will often try to show that a candidate does not live in the district they are running for. McMahon said he wasn’t conducting research for anyone else, but he did raise his concerns about where two legislators actually lived.

In 2012, McMahon ran unsuccessfully for New Mexico State Senate against Sen. Jacob Candelaria as a Democrat. Two years later, according to Dennis Maez’s report, McMahon sought Candelaria’s  lease agreement under false pretenses. According to a police report Candelaria filed against McMahon, McMahon told a representative from the apartment leasing office he was either related to or friends with Candelaria.

McMahon told NM Political Report he did inquire with the leasing office about Candelaria’s residency because he suspected Candelaria did not live in his district.

“I did go and ask as an investigator,” McMahon said.

But at that time, McMahon was still three years away from having his private investigator’s license.

New Mexico State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, is also mentioned in Dennis Maez’s complaint. McMahon reportedly spoke with her constituents about whether she lived in her district.

“She also told me that Villanueva had threatened and intimidated mostly older neighbors to obtain affidavits stating she was not living at her residence thereby disqualifying her from holding the legislative seat for that District,” Dennis Maez wrote.

In June of this year, Roybal Caballero filed a temporary restraining order against McMahon. In turn, McMahon sued Roybal Caballero for violating his right to free speech. McMahon argued that an elected official cannot be protected from citizens and that the restraining order would prevent him from going to the state capital. That case is still pending in state district court, along with another criminal case against McMahon.

Where it began

In 2010, McMahon sued the Bernalillo County Detention Center, saying the county fired him for exposing government waste. According to the Albuquerque Journal, jail officials released a statement calling McMahon “disgruntled.”

A jury decided in favor of the county and McMahon appealed. The case remains in the State Court of Appeals. In 2014, McMahon again found himself shining a light on government abuse when he reported that a golf course run by the city of Albuquerque did not collect money from vendors. McMahon was subsequently fired from the golf course, though he received praise from former Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry.

In 2014, McMahon took his watchdogging to politics and obtained absentee ballots in the names of three dead people, saying he did so just to prove it was possible. That demonstration ended with a grand jury indictment for voter fraud in 2016.

But he was never convicted of those voter fraud felonies.

Instead, McMahon entered into a pre-prosecution program in January. A felony conviction would have likely prevented McMahon from getting his private investigator license a month later.

NM Political Report asked the Bernalillo District Attorney’s Office about the conditions of McMahon’s pre-prosecution program and if he had completed them. A spokesman for the office declined to answer, saying the case remains open.

It was around that time that McMahon started working for Albuquerque radio personality Eddy Aragon, helping run Aragon’s short-lived campaign for mayor. According to Dennis Maez’s report, McMahon threatened to tell Aragon’s family about damaging personal information if Aragon did not pay McMahon $8,000. According to Albuquerque Police Department records, an officer found no evidence of extortion.

McMahon maintains Aragon owed him for campaign work, and the attempt to collect money he was owed was not an extortion attempt. Aragon declined to speak with NM Political Report.

Dennis Maez also investigated how McMahon qualified for his license. RLD requires at least 6,000 hours of investigation-related experience to qualify as a private investigator. According to McMahon’s investigator license application, he logged 12,500 hours with another investigation firm and the Albuquerque Police Department. McMahon told NM Political Report he did not work for APD, but instead worked for Miranda Investigative Resources, which contracted with the police department. McMahon said the owner of that company filled out the work history portion of his application, pointing to the different handwriting on that area.

It’s still unknown how the private investigator governing board will proceed with Dennis Maez’s complaint, but McMahon said an RLD compliance officer told him the issue may not be in the board’s jurisdiction.

“This is not stuff that they look at because somebody got stung,” McMahon said. “Their only purview is ‘Did I commit a crime?’”

RLD officials would only confirm that the complaint was filed and that the soonest the board could make a decision is Jan. 12, 2018.

*Stephanie Maez is the incoming executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for NM Political Report. No one in the organization, including Maez, has any input in the editorial process of this or any other story.