SANTA FE, N.M. — The family of a State Police officer on Gov. Susana Martinez’s security detail helped arrange and paid for part of an alligator hunting trip in Louisiana by the governor’s husband, according to administration officials.
The trip in 2011 has come under scrutiny because the governor’s critics have questioned whether it was financed by the Louisiana owners of a horse racing track that received a new lease at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque.
The governor’s office has insisted that no costs were paid for by anyone connected to the racetrack and this week, released details of the trip to The Associated Press to support its explanation.
“The governor ordered the release of this information to put to rest the ridiculous and utterly baseless assertions by left-wing political groups that the First Gentleman’s personal trip was at all related to” the fairgrounds lease, Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in a statement.
The hunting trip in September 2011 initially was planned by two State Police officers who provide security for Martinez and they invited Chuck Franco, the governor’s husband, to accompany them.
The wife of Ruben Maynes, one of the security agents, has family in Louisiana. Her uncle, George Blanchard of Breaux Bridge, La., paid $500 for two nights of lodging and a $500 fee for Franco to shoot an alligator, according to Knell. Blanchard also provided food while they were at the lodge. Franco paid $200 for the hunting guide.
Blanchard, who is an electrical contractor, said in an email to the AP that he is not related to Paul Blanchard of Albuquerque, one of three men who own the Downs at Albuquerque, the racetrack that won a 25-year lease from the Martinez administration that will allow the construction of a larger casino at the state fairgrounds. The lease was approved in December 2011 — several months after Franco’s hunting trip.
“I am not related to any Blanchards in New Mexico nor had any idea that there were any,” he said.
Franco, Maynes and security officer Frank Chavez drove from Santa Fe to the hunting lodge in Louisiana without an overnight stop. Each of the security officers had a son that accompanied them on the trip, but they were mostly cared for by relatives while in Louisiana, according to the governor’s office.
During the return trip to New Mexico, Franco and the two security agents stayed at a house in Mississippi owned by George Blanchard, as well as at the home of one of his friend’s, Jody Chenier of Vacherie, La.
According to the governor’s office, neither of the men does business with New Mexico state government. That means any of the trip expenses they covered are not subject to a state law limiting gifts to government officials.
Franco went crab fishing and ATV riding during one stop on the return trip. The group attended a neighborhood fish fry during another overnight stop.
A state-owned SUV was used for the trip, and State Police Chief Robert Shilling said it’s the responsibility of the State Police to provide security for the governor and her husband.
Maynes and Chavez initially had planned to take vacation for the hunting trip but that changed once Franco agreed to accompany them.
Shilling said the officers had to cancel their vacation and instead, were assigned to serve as Franco’s security detail.
Franco used the hunting permit that had been arranged for Maynes. While the group was at the hunting lodge, Maynes stayed in a recreational vehicle owned by George Blanchard.
Chavez did shoot an alligator during a break in his duties, and he paid personally for his hunting lodge expenses, according to Knell.
Shilling said Chavez was permitted to hunt because it took only a few minutes to shoot the alligator and Maynes provided security coverage for Franco. Shilling said security officers can take care of personal business during breaks in their work schedule.
The state paid $630 for gasoline for the trip, about $124 for food and each of the officers received about $1,100 in overtime. The administration had previously released those cost figures.
According to affidavits by the security officers, they and Franco “did not have any contact with, attend any events or activities with, or receive any gift, payment, food or accommodations from anyone with an ownership interest in, or connection to, The Downs, nor from any other person or entity doing business, or seeking to do business, with the state of New Mexico.”
The sworn statements, which were released by the governor’s office, were provided last year to Attorney General Gary King’s office, which was investigating the racetrack lease deal.
Independent Source PAC, a union-funded group critical of Martinez, had asked King to investigate because the Downs’ Louisiana owners made political contributions to Martinez. The governor’s office has said the contributions were permissible under state law and didn’t influence decisions on the fairgrounds lease.