Former Española City Manager David Valdez used over $4,000 of his previous employer’s funds at casinos in 2015, according to credit card statements from the Colorado City Metropolitan District.
Former District finance director Donna Pickman said the money was eventually reimbursed. Records show that Valdez, who worked as Colorado City’s district manager for over a decade until his 2018 resignation, reimbursed the first and last of six instances of spending at casinos. The rest are not specified.
Valdez’s financial practices in the District are the subject of a Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office investigation which was recently forwarded to the Pueblo County District Attorney’s Office.
Over $18,000 went missing from the Española Utilities Department less than two weeks after Valdez began as city manager April 1 and he was fired in July amid an investigation into the alleged theft by the New Mexico Attorney General.
Valdez said on the night of his termination that after the City Council’s hearing he would go to the Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino to play blackjack.
Evidence of Valdez’s casino spending in Colorado with a District credit card ends in September 2015 after an $856 charge at Wildwood Casino. That credit statement was signed by then-District Board secretary Susan Kalman, treasurer Pattie Wadlington and director Terry Milsom. A written note on the statement gave Valdez until the end of the year to reimburse the money.
Kalman was listed as a reference on Valdez’s application to Española, as was then-Board chair Jacque Wachob.
City of Española officials denied a records request for Valdez’s reference materials due to an exemption in state law barring the release of reference letters.
Kalman said she and other Board members at the time considered Valdez an excellent district manager in many ways.
“We felt that we had handled any situation that may have been questionable,” she said.
Wadlington, Milsom and Wachob could not be reached for comment by press time.
Pickman, now finance director for the city of Newton, Kan., signed off on the majority of the 2015 credit card statements.
After initially declining to comment on personnel matters in an interview prior to the records’ release, Pickman claimed money never went missing under Valdez.
“We ran a tight ship,” she said.
In an interview after the records’ release, she said she became aware of the spending early in the trend but claimed the Board did not act quickly to stop it. She stood by her previous statements, and said she did what she could to get the money back.
Charges also included nearly $800 at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort, concurrent with Valdez’s first use of the card at an Arizona casino in March 2015, and a $483 cash advance taken out in September 2017.
Records show Valdez reimbursed the resort charge. Jack Bay, who served as district finance director for several months in 2017, said Valdez gave back the cash advance after being confronted.
Bay said Valdez became frustrated with him over the confrontation, saying he was the one who hired Bay.
Former Española Utilities Department billing supervisor Nadine Trujillo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Valdez and the city July 19, alleging that after the money went missing, Valdez created a hostile work environment that essentially forced her to resign.
Security footage from the day of the alleged theft shows Valdez entering the Utilities Department at least seven times.
Current Colorado City Metropolitan District Board Chair Terry Kraus said he does not remember if he was interviewed by hiring representatives from Española, but he felt limited in what he could say in other job reference interviews for Valdez. He said he is unsure of District policy, but in his previous jobs he was limited to only discussing a former employee’s start date, end date and pay.
“The law is against anybody who wants to give an honest opinion of anybody,” he said. “When I did talk to people about former employees, it was very, very tight what you could or couldn’t say.”
Colorado state law bars employers from making false statements about a former employee, but otherwise allows broad commentary on an employee’s work history.
He declined to comment on Valdez’s credit card usage and said he had little knowledge of what happened in the past before he became Board chair.
Kraus, who also owns Colorado City’s newspaper, The Greenhorn Valley View, said the paper has not published anything relating to the two investigations because he does not want people to make assumptions.
“I have a very strong belief that people are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
After Valdez’s resignation from the District Aug. 23, 2018, one week before an independent auditor visited the Board to present an audit of the District’s 2017 finances, he was kept on in a contractor capacity to smooth the transition.
Kraus said his work was monitored during this time.
“In order to protect him and us, he did not work independently at all,” he said.
Valdez could not be reached for comment.
Española Mayor Javier Sanchez declined to comment on pending investigations.
New Mexico Attorney General Spokesperson Matt Baca said Monday the investigation into Española’s Utilities Department theft is still highly active, but no charges have been filed.