Longform

TRADE SECRETS

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AR-TEK's manager, Carlos Soto Rodriguez, produced an estimate for the equipment that was slightly higher than the price submitted to Meja several months earlier. In responding to a request for a price quotation, however, Rodriguez unknowingly provided other important information.

The fine print on his business card contained two addresses. One was for his own store. The other was the address for none other than Computiendas Denki, the "low" bidder to provide Meja with computer equipment.

The third firm that had submitted a "bid" to provide Meja's office with computers was Excelencia en Sistemas Computacionales, which doesn't appear in the Mexico City phone book.

A two-story residential building stands at the site listed as the address for Excelencia. The building had no signs indicating it was a business. An elderly woman who came to the door said she did not know Jose Collepardo, the person submitting Excelencia's bid for the state contract.

"There is no Jose Collepardo here," she said.
The woman said her address matched the one given for Excelencia. But there was no Collepardo and there were no computers for sale, she said.

In short, two of the bids for the computer equipment supplied to Meja's office came from companies that share the same address. The third bid was submitted by a company that doesn't appear to exist.

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 Meja had planned with a friend to steer the computer contract to the friend's business.

"It all happened exactly as he [Meja] planned it," Guerra wrote.
@rule:
@body:Meja'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 Meja's family can perform.

Weigt entrusted Jorge Meja 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.

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

Meja 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, Meja 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 Meja'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 Meja:

"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.)"
Meja 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 Meja. 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 Meja, 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.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty