Longform

TRADE SECRETS

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Documents turned over to New Times by the Governor's Office, however, raise as many questions as they answer about the Symington-Bishop-Meja troika.

In one instance, six pages of a letter faxed to the Governor's Office from Bishop's company--a letter sent five days after the Salinas meeting--are missing. Douglas Cole, the governor's press secretary, says those pages just aren't in the state file.

If the missing pages are anything like the last page, however, the letter must have been a fascinating document.

On the bottom of the eighth page is a copy of the $3,306 check from Bishop to Jorge Meja. The check supposedly was for translation services. Bishop, it seems, had arranged for Meja to translate several books given to him by Mexican officials.

Meja should have known it would be improper to contract with Bishop. Four months earlier, during a job interview, Meja told Bigg, the state's international trade director, that he had thoroughly read the state's procurement rules and understood the conflict-of-interest provisions--provisions that preclude him from receiving money from businessmen seeking help from the Mexico City trade office.

So far, Meja has escaped serious repercussions from the Bishop check.
Commerce officials clearly are concerned about the possibility of scandal in one of their three international trade offices, which are under scrutiny this year by the legislature.

"We can't afford a failure down there," Bigg wrote in a December memo that specifically referred to the Mexico City operation.

A $300,000 appropriation for the Mexico City trade office is up for renewal during this legislative session. Some state legislators want Arizona businesses to contribute to the cost of running the Mexico office, as well as those in Taiwan and Japan--a move strongly opposed by Commerce.

With damage control becoming the overriding factor, the person who blew the whistle on Bishop's check to Meja became expendable. But removing Guerra from the state payroll cannot make her allegations disappear. And those allegations involve a lot more than one $3,000-plus check.

@rule:
@body:Guerra is a slim, gracious woman with years of experience and extensive contacts in Mexico City's diplomatic and business community. She wasn't about to leave her job at the trade office without a fight. But she also knew there were two ways to conduct the battle--in public or through proper government channels. She chose the latter, and continues to decline on-the-record interviews.

In mid-January, Guerra sent a five-page letter to Bigg outlining a dozen "irregularities" in Meja's direction of the office. Many of them involve trivial matters, such as the hiring of an office maid and purchase of new stationery. But several are more serious. (A copy of the January 17 letter made its way to New Times from a source other than Guerra.)

In addition to the Bishop check, Guerra claimed, Meja had commissioned two ethically questionable contracts, one involving a telemarketing campaign operated by his niece, and the other the purchase of $21,000 worth of computer equipment.

Commerce Department records reveal that Bigg placed little credence in Guerra's complaints.

"While my initial inclination is to totally disregard her assertions as typical of a disgruntled employee who has been terminated, perhaps you would clarify this, just to be sure we have all bases covered should she spread these rumors further," Bigg wrote in a January 24 memorandum to Meja.

Meja covered those bases a week later in a three-page note to Bigg, offering a series of explanations of Guerra's allegations. Bigg accepted Meja's statements as gospel.

"After much discussion and thorough investigation of your allegations," Bigg wrote in a February 25 letter to Guerra, "we have come to the conclusion that Jorge [Meja] has done nothing unethical or illegal."
It is clear that investigation was not, in fact, very thorough.
@rule:

@body:After obtaining copies of the bids Meja said he had received from three computer retailers, New Times visited those same Mexico City firms and obtained price quotes for some of the same equipment purchased by the state last October.

The first stop was Computiendas Denki, the company that won the $21,118.90 trade-office contract, where Ricardo Targa said he was Computiendas Denki's supplier and was authorized to sell equipment to individuals for the same price as Computiendas Denki.

New Times provided Targa with a list of computer equipment that included items purchased four months earlier by Meja for the state trade office.

Targa said he would sell the equipment for $2,557, about half the price that the state had paid Computiendas Denki last October.

The next stop was AR-TEK, a computer retailer that submitted the highest of three bids for the contract.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty