The city of Rio Rancho intercepted revenue and gross receipts taxes intended to benefit Albuquerque constituents as a result of the Duke City Gladiators professional indoor football team playing its 2022 season at the Rio Rancho Events Center.
So says a report by Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the city of Albuquerque regarding the city's $237,000 purchase and installation of a playing field used by the team for eight home games held at the Rio Rancho Events Center last year.
It’s unclear whether the team will play on the same turf when they play their first home game of the 2023 season April 1.
The OIG report concludes that the purchase and installation of the turf – which bears the city’s slogan, “One Albuquerque,” and has “Gladiators” spelled out in each end zone – violated both the state’s Anti-Donation Clause and terms of the general obligation bond that funded the field.
“The field is located in the City of Rio Rancho and any proceeds or gross receipts tax on ticket sales, concessions, or merchandise are not benefiting the constituents of the City of Albuquerque,” states the report, approved by the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee Chairman on March 10. “These types of revenues do provide a benefit to the constituents of the City of Rio Rancho.”
It’s also unclear how much Rio Rancho benefited monetarily. The team draws crowds in the thousands for its eight home games. Tickets range in price from $7 to $52 and concession prices are rated as on par with similar-sized venues.
What’s more, the report makes a recommendation that Albuquerque work with Global Spectrum, L.P., operator of the city owned Rio Rancho Events Center (RREC), and the Gladiators to recoup the $237,000 of Albuquerque taxpayer money spent on their behalf.
Neither Global Spectrum nor the Gladiators returned messages from the Signpost to see if they were willing to do so.
The attorney for the city of Albuquerque disputes the claims, saying in part that the Gladiators stay in Rio Rancho was “temporary.”
In a letter responding to an inquiry by the state Office of the Attorney General dated Dec. 9, 2022, attorney Alan Heinz wrote the city remains the owner of the field and that the agreement requires RREC to make the arena available for youth activities 14 days a year.
“With such control, the City retains the ability to ensure the activities benefit the public living in and around Albuquerque,” Heinz wrote.
He valued the youth activities that had taken place that year at $90,000.
The team also had an agreement to provide the city of Albuquerque up to 50 free tickets per game. The report suggests that there was no accounting for those tickets.
The team used to play its games at Tingley Coliseum, a state-owned arena in Albuquerque. It started playing Indoor Football League games in Rio Rancho in 2021 due to the facility’s unavailability under Covid restrictions.
The Inspector General’s report cites the bond’s allocation of $160,000 to the Parks and Recreation Department, purchase orders, interviews with city employees and emails related to procurement. The city was to come up with the rest of the money to pay for the installation.
The most damning evidence cited may be a letter from the Department of Finance and Administration legal department alerting the city that the purchase and installation of the turf in Rio Rancho would violate state laws.
The purchase and installation went through, anyway, in a process some city employees described as “rushed” with the Gladiators’ 2022 season fast approaching.
On Wednesday, Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez wrote state Attorney General Raul Torrez suggesting "potential criminal conduct" by Mayor Tim Keller's administration.
He cited the Department of Finance and Administration's notice to the city of violations to the Anti-Donation Clause.
"Yet the Keller Administration still bought the turf for the private company in a different city with Albuquerque tax dollars," he wrote.
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