On Oct. 15, 2014, Kevin Sourisseau sent a message to his boss with the subject line “Harold’s Trucking Audit.”
As second and first in command of the state Taxation and Revenue Department’s audits, Sourisseau and his then-director Lizzy Vedamanikam were in charge of making sure individuals and businesses paid their share of taxes in New Mexico. Their boss, TRD Secretary Demesia Padilla, wanted to help Harold’s Grading & Trucking save money after the Bernalillo-based company faced an audit from their department. Before Gov. Susana Martinez named her head of the state agency in 2011, Padilla had done accounting work for the trucking company. In his email to Vedamanikam, Sourisseau wrote that the situation was a “difficult and uncomfortable issue.” Still, it didn’t seem like he had a reason for concern.
Shortly after state Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla was publicly implicated in an investigation of wrongdoing, the governor’s chief of staff received a letter. Those who sent the letter, which Susana Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner received on July 14, claimed to be employees “who have witnessed the decline of this department because of the unprofessional, unethical, and overall inept leadership of Demesia Padilla.”
“Since the governor is on the record that her staff are expected to hold to the highest ethical and professional standards, we hope that you’ll look into what we share in this letter, and that you’ll do something about it before more TRD staff, out of frustration, seek out the [Attorney General], the state auditor and the press as a means to address these serious concerns,” the letter reads. NM Political Report obtained the letter through a public records request with the governor’s office. In July, State Auditor Tim Keller announced a preliminary investigation contracted by his office concluded that Padilla may have interfered with the tax audit of a former client for whom she did accounting work before becoming the TRD cabinet secretary. The client, later revealed to be Bernalillo-based Harold’s Grading & Trucking, has denied knowing about or asking for any special treatment.
In July, State Auditor General Counsel Sarita Nair filed an ethics complaint against Tax Department lead attorney Brad Odell with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of New Mexico, NM Political Report has learned. The Disciplinary Board opted not to take action against Odell, citing that it lacked sufficient evidence.
When New Mexico Political Report discovered and reported on a botched redaction from the state Taxation and Revenue Department this summer, the state responded with a threat. “You purposely manipulated the document in order to reveal taxpayer return information and thwart the purpose of the redaction,” tax department spokesman Ben Cloutier wrote to us in July. “You have published taxpayer return information despite the clear intent that it remain confidential. It is unlawful for any person other than the taxpayer to intentionally reveal to any other person the taxpayer’s return information.”
Yet internal emails show at least one current tax department attorney faulted his employer, and not New Mexico Political Report, for the mishap. “I have been telling the Department for years that we are not redacting documents properly,” tax department attorney Lewis Terr wrote in an email the same day we published the story.
Before New Mexico Political Report recently reported on a botched redaction from the state Taxation and Revenue Department, we reached out to its spokesman multiple times. It took Taxation Department spokesman Ben Cloutier more than four hours to respond. And when he did, he responded with a legal threat. “Mr. Peters,” he begins in an email sent Thursday late afternoon: Although taxpayer return information was redacted by the department to provide confidentiality, you purposely manipulated the document (i.e., you were able to get around the redaction and enhance the imagery) in order to reveal taxpayer return information and thwart the purpose of the redaction. Furthermore, you have published taxpayer return information despite the clear intent that it remain confidential.
A leaked email from the state Taxation and Revenue Department last week was perhaps more transparent than the department intended. Update: The Taxation and Revenue Department responded. Here is the response. This story continues as originally written below. State Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office for allegedly providing or attempting special tax treatment to a former client for whom she served as a certified public accountant.
A state department attempted to thwart an outside investigation into its cabinet secretary’s alleged wrongdoings, State Auditor Tim Keller said in a press conference Wednesday morning. Keller released four documents related to his office’s preliminary investigation into whether Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla illegally intervened to give preferential treatment to her former client and retaliated against employees who brought concerns. The Taxation Department collects and distributes tax funds in New Mexico. Among the newly released documents are letters showing how the department attempted to prevent two of its employees from being interviewed by an outside firm hired by the state auditor to look into the matter. “They basically were trying to obstruct our investigation,” Keller said.
An investigation into the state Taxation and Revenue Department is implicating cabinet Secretary Demesia Padilla for alleged illegal behavior. State Auditor Tim Keller recently revealed that his office received a complaint in February that senior TRD officials gave a certain politically connected taxpayer preferential treatment. Part of the reason for the alleged preferential treatment centered around how a cabinet level TRD official previously worked for this taxpayer. A letter sent yesterday from State Auditor Tim Keller to Gov. Susana Martinez says that the allegations surround Padilla, the highest-level employee in the department. According to the letter, Padilla allegedly “improperly influenced, or attempted to influence, the TRD tax audit of a former client.”
Top officials in the state Taxation and Revenue Department may have improperly given preferential treatment to a New Mexico taxpayer, according to State Auditor Tim Keller’s Office. Update: A letter from Keller to Gov. Susana Martinez names Tax and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla as part of the investigation. Our report is here. The post continues as originally written below. The allegations came from a fraud hotline call to Keller’s office in February, along with an audio recording of senior Taxation Department officials.