TRADE SECRETS

ARIZONA'S TRADE REPRESENTATIVE TO MEXICO WAS CUTTING DEALS WITH HIS FRIENDS AND FAMILY. A SECRETARY REPORTED THE PROBLEM--AND PROMPTLY GOT CANNED.

None of this could possibly surprise Guerra. She warned the state in a January 17 letter that the computer contract appeared to be unusual.

Guerra told Bigg that all three bids for the computer equipment arrived on the same fax transmission, and that MejĦa had planned with a friend to steer the computer contract to the friend's business.

"It all happened exactly as he [MejĦa] planned it," Guerra wrote.
@rule:
@body:MejĦa's penchant for doing business with friends and relatives hardly stops at computers or translation. And Lisa Weigt, marketing director for the state tourism office, found out the hard way just how poorly MejĦa's family can perform.

Weigt entrusted Jorge MejĦa with ensuring that more than 600 wholesale and retail travel agencies were invited to attend a three-day affair at Mexico City's most expensive hotel. The tourism office was sponsoring a trade mission for 13 representatives of hotels and convention bureaus across Arizona. Each of the representatives paid $700 to attend the events.

MejĦa seemed like a natural to assist in this project, given his background in hotel and travel-agency management.

MejĦa offered Weigt the services of his niece's telemarketing company--manned by his son, his niece and a friend--to help with invitations for the October 25 to 27 trade mission. The tourism office agreed to pay the telemarketing company $1,700 to handle the arrangements.

Once again, MejĦa crossed the state's conflict-of-interest rules for state contractors by steering business to family members. But no one from Arizona seemed to care.

Even with MejĦa's assurances that invitations would be sent and follow-up calls made, something gnawed on Weigt's mind as the date for the trade mission approached. Weigt relayed her deep concerns about the situation in an October 8 letter to MejĦa:

"My biggest fear is that the wholesalers will not attend the function on Monday. This day is so important. If this day goes well the delegates will all be happy. (If their [sic] happy so am I.)"
MejĦa eased Weigt's fears somewhat when he called her three days before the event and told her he had received confirmations from twice the number of wholesale travel companies Weigt had expected to attend the first day of the three-day trade mission.

Weigt made last-minute arrangements with the Hotel Nikko to add more table settings for breakfast and lunch to the conference room to accommodate the bigger crowd promised by MejĦa. The last-minute change added $1,215 to Monday's bill, bringing the total for the day to $4,000.

The Arizona travel delegation was up bright and early on October 25, heading for the Hotel Nikko's conference room and the trade mission's kickoff breakfast. Within minutes of the delegation's arrival, it was clear there was a major problem. The 8 a.m. starting time came and went; no Mexican tourist representatives appeared. Breakfast was served. Still no action.

Panic filled the air as Lisa Weigt and Arizona Office of Tourism public relations liaison Leia James scrambled to determine why no one had shown up. Everyone was stunned.

"They [state officials] were as shocked as we were" by the lack of response, says Lupe Pickrel, who attended the conference for Flagstaff's Little America Hotel.

And where was Jorge MejĦa, who three days earlier told Weigt that the telemarketing team had 80 confirmations for the breakfast? He had scurried out the door of the Hotel Nikko to meet his wife, and then headed to the airport to fly to Phoenix for a 14-day, all-expenses-paid tour of Arizona.

His niece's telemarketing team was left behind to handle the disaster.
Two months after the trade show, MejĦa sent a letter to Weigt demanding that the tourism office pay the telemarketing team, records obtained from the office under the state public records law show.

"I hope this delay in payment has nothing to do with the poor attendance to [sic] October 25, 1993," MejĦa wrote.

The tourism office caved in to MejĦa's demand for payment, cutting a check for $1,715.18. The check was made out to his niece's company--which also employs MejĦa's son, Jorge MejĦa Jr.

@rule:
@body:Commerce officials couldn't help but notice the strange activities occurring in Mexico City under their new director. So a memorandum was prepared and distributed.

"Your family members are not allowed to do work for or contract with your respective offices. This is clearly a conflict of interest which cannot occur," reads a November 22 memo issued by Deputy Commerce Director David Guthrie.

Once again, there is little doubt that MejĦa received the message. He confirmed he understood the policy in a letter to Dorothy Bigg. The letter was written January 31, about seven weeks after MejĦa had forced Victoria Guerra to leave the trade office.

"I now realize that as a matter of policy, I should not involve family members in providing services to the State," MejĦa wrote.

A few days later, Arizona's trade office in Mexico City was ready to award a contract for accounting services. Among other duties, the new accountants would be responsible for dealing with Mexican tax authorities.

A small accounting firm named CONFIE Corporativo Fiscal Empresarial was awarded the $200-per-month (plus expenses) contract on February 9.

MejĦa's wife is an employee of the firm.

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