Review: Former Albuquerque police chief may have violated ethics rules with no-bid Taser deal

Associated Press

Albuquerque's former police chief potentially violated city and state ethics rules by influencing a no-bid $1.95 million contract to purchase body cameras before going to work as a consultant for the supplier, the New Mexico state auditor reported Thursday.

Actions by Ray Schultz and his subordinates strongly suggest Taser International "had an unfair advantage and 'inside track' to city approval" for the 2013 contract, which was then one of the largest municipal purchases of body cameras, State Auditor Timothy Keller wrote in a review. The deal circumvented competitive bidding rules and noted that Schultz sent a Taser salesman an email saying the process was "greased," he wrote.

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Keller referred the findings of his office's yearlong review to prosecutors to determine whether Schultz, now the assistant police chief in Memorial Villages, Texas, and others should face charges. Keller said flaws in city purchasing processes improperly allowed Taser to win the award without competition, and he questioned the propriety of trips, meals and a party at a San Diego nightclub that the company covered for Schultz and other Albuquerque Police Department employees.

Schultz has denied wrongdoing and didn't immediately return messages seeking comment. He's hired a lawyer to defend him against an investigation by New Mexico's attorney general, Keller said.

The findings are a blow for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Taser, which tapped Schultz as it became a leader in the fast-growing market for cameras that officers wear on their uniforms.

Taser's relationships with police administrators have come under scrutiny, with rivals complaining they have given Taser an unfair advantage. The company has covered airfare, hotels and meals for chiefs and associates who attend its training and networking events and hired Schultz and two other chiefs as consultants shortly after they retired. Taser has defended the relationships as standard and proper.

In a letter to two Albuquerque city councilors who requested the investigation, Keller said he found probable violations of several city conflict-of-interest ordinances and the state's Governmental Conduct Act.

Schultz told Taser salesman Andrew Grayson in an August 2013 email that a proposed contract for 525 cameras and a five-year subscription to the company's video storage software "has been greased so it should go without any issues." Schultz added that he had influence with the mayor and another top official, "so if you run into any problems, give me a shout." The same day, the two discussed Schultz's upcoming retirement and prospective employment as a consultant.

"If there is anything I can do for you or Taser, especially to talk about my/our experiences please let me know," Schultz wrote.

Grayson responded, "We are always in need of progressive thinkers and great presenters (and you fit the bill!). I would like to discuss more about using your success stories ... to present to other agencies around the country."

Schultz began an "early retirement" Sept. 7 but remained on Albuquerque's payroll through Jan. 1, 2014. Taser offered him a consulting contract Sept. 17. City officials approved the body-camera contract later that month.

Schultz may have violated ordinances that ban employees from influencing purchasing decisions while negotiating employment with vendors and that require ex-employees to wait one year before they can represent certain companies. Whether Schultz committed wrongdoing may depend on whether his consulting amounted to "employment" and "representation" of Taser, Keller wrote, noting that Schultz has spoken at Taser-sponsored events from Amsterdam to Australia.

Schultz and others who received Taser-funded perks may have broken rules that require employees to disclose conflicts of interest and to not accept gifts, among others, Keller said.

As the department was considering body cameras in October 2012, Schultz and a deputy were guests at a Taser-sponsored party at Stingaree Night Club in San Diego during a national conference. Other employees traveled on an "all expenses paid" trip to Taser's headquarters to learn how to use its Evidence.com storage software.

Albuquerque made its first major purchase of body cameras for $106,000 in March 2013, avoiding competitive bidding by improperly relying on an earlier contract for other Taser equipment, Keller said. City officials later justified the $1.95 million contract by claiming a pilot program determined that Taser's cameras performed the best but failed to document what testing was done on other models, he added.

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Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa.