City Councilman Richard Fimbres used his position to get discounted rent and free meals at taxpayer expense for an organization he once ran, according to a claim made by the fired former deputy director of the Tucson Convention Center.
The deal Fimbres is alleged to have secured for the League of United Latin American Citizens cost taxpayers $9,581 over the three years since he took office.
The allegation of deep discounts for LULAC first appeared in an unrelated investigation of former TCC Deputy Director Tommy Obermaier, who was fired in January for what city officials charged were years of mismanagement.
It was during the city's probe of Obermaier that he told investigators that Fimbres was carrying on a practice started by his predecessor, Steve Leal. Fimbres' wife was an aide to Leal for 16 years, before Leal stepped down in 2009. Mary Fimbres remains an officer with the LULAC chapter that sponsors the banquets.
Leal was not available for comment.
Obermaier told investigators the LULAC banquet has always been "a political-influenced event," and the "historical" discounts began about a decade ago. City records show Fimbres was listed as the customer for most of the events. The records also show discounted rent and free meals were part of the deal almost from the beginning.
Fimbres denied ever making the requests after he became a councilman. As the banquet organizer he did discuss the event with Obermaier before his election in 2009. But after taking office, Fimbres said, he told Obermaier he couldn't be involved anymore in order to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
"I'm pretty sure that I have called in the past. But when I came into this seat, I don't think I have," Fimbres said.
City documents, however, list Fimbres as both the customer and billing invoice recipient for the three banquets that took place at the TCC from 2010 to 2012.
Fimbres said those were probably the same old contracts they used since he was directly involved with the banquets, but Obermaier never bothered changing them. Fimbres said while he liked Obermaier personally, Obermaier did a poor job of keeping detailed records.
"If I know Tommy's brain, I don't think he remembers half the things," Fimbres said.
There is also a 2011 fax from the TCC to Fimbres' office regarding an invoice for a LULAC banquet.
Fimbres said he wasn't surprised by the fax since LULAC has held meetings in the Ward 5 office the past 24 years and some of his aides assist with the event.
Aspects are Legal
Half-price rent and 25 percent parking discounts are legal, City Attorney Mike Rankin said.
But charging approximately $3,370 for free meals to the TCC marketing fund in 2010 and 2011 is a problem, he said. Another $2,611 for meals in 2012 was billed to a different TCC fund. The money covered 80 to 100 meals a year.
Rankin said he doesn't believe Fimbres violated the gift statute or any other applicable law since LULAC is a charitable organization.
Rankin also said he has no reason not to believe Fimbres' assertion that he did not order Obermaier to give the LULAC discounts.
Discounted rent and parking were always a part of deal, Fimbres said. Sponsored meals were also a part of the deal, but Fimbres contended they were paid by the TCC's caterer, Aramark, not taxpayers.
The dinners were not paid for by Aramark, however. Obermaier told Aramark the city would pay for the meals, city records show
HISTORY of THE DEAL
Fimbres said former City Manager Luis Gutierrez approached him and LULAC in the late 1990s and asked if they would consider holding the educational awards banquet at the TCC.
The city wanted the banquet at the TCC to repair its relationship within the Latino community after it was revealed the city was charging quinceañeras held at the TCC more than other comparable events, he said.
But Gutierrez denied approaching Fimbres or offering any such olive branch.
"I don't remember any of that," Gutierrez said.
Star archives detail the flap over charges for events at the TCC in 1995, but it involved all receptions and parties, not just quinceañeras, although quinceañeras were the most frequent.
The TCC stopped taking reservations for private parties because, at City Council direction, the rental rates were so low the private parties had been receiving heavy taxpayer subsidies for years. After about four days of public outrage, such bookings resumed.
When the LULAC banquets began at the TCC, former city managers and Leal would make the discount requests, Obermaier told investigators. Fimbres had been the one making the requests once he took office in December 2009, he said.
Many city officials knew about the deal, and "there's always been an expectation" of discounts and free meals, Obermaier told investigators. When pressed about who exactly knew about the deal, Obermaier told investigators he wasn't inclined to "throw people under the bus."
LULAC is not holding its meeting at the TCC this year, the city was told over the past week.
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Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DarrenDaRonco.