Economic Development Secretary’s Emails Reveal Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as Key Decision Maker in Egolf Company’s $750,000 LEDA Grant

So wrote Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s secretary of economic development, Alicia Keyes, to the team she assembled to work on requests from Kelly Egolf to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state’s economic development funds for New Mexico Fresh Foods, LLC.

Egolf, wife of then Speaker of the House of Representatives Brian Egolf, formed New Mexico Fresh Foods, LLC (NM Fresh Foods) in 2018, and according to pending litigation, did so with help from her husband’s law firm.

In July of 2022, acting on a tip from an inside source at a state agency, The Candle sent an Inspection of Public Records Act request to the New Mexico Economic Development Department (NMEDD) for a copy of all documents related to New Mexico Fresh Foods, LLC (NM Fresh Foods) and its founder Kelly Egolf.

The Candle learned of rumors that NM Fresh Foods was receiving special treatment by officials in the state’s major economic development agency.

Shortly after that request was made of NMEDD, The Candle’s request was also emailed to Office of Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The Candle made additional IPRA requests over the last eighteen months.

Responses to the IPRA’s provided thousands of pages of documents which, when sorted through, reveal a pattern of privilege provided to the Egolf’s and their food processing venture.

Legislature Raises Concerns About State Economic Development Funding Programs

In November of 2022, New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) released a report entitled, “Impacts of Past Local Economic Development Act and Job Incentive Training Program Investments.”

The report provided a list of concerns and recommendations intended to provide greater transparency, protection of the state’s investments of economic development funds, and fairness in the decision making of the Economic Development Department when choosing which companies received state funds from its incentive programs.

The following is from page 11, of the LFC report,

Governor as Decision-maker on Egolf Company $750,000 LEDA Application

This is the first of several articles to be published over the next several days revealing communications and decisions which led to giving hundreds of thousands of state government dollars for Kelly Egolf’s food business.

At least $150,000 was given to the company even when it had seriously missed creating agreed to numbers of new jobs and appeared, according to allegations in a civil suit, to be in critical financial stress.

Today’s story, through a tranche of email threads, reveals approval of the LEDA funds by the highest officials in the Lujan Grisham administration – with clear reference to the Governor as the decision-maker.

The first thread (listed in reverse chronological order as The Candle received the emails in the IPRA response from NMEDD) identifies the Governor as the decision maker on the NM Fresh Foods application for the LEDA funds:

(The “EIA” and “BBER” referred to in the email thread above are acronyms for “Economic Impact Assessment” and the University of New Mexico’s “Bureau of Business and Economic Research,” respectively. In an upcoming report, The Candle will detail the machinations of the NMEDD’s economist’s and agency brass’ subjective assessments of the financial projections of NM Fresh Foods job creation estimates, and the disrespect they held for the University of New Mexico’s economists.)

This second thread of emails further reveals the decision to approve the Kelly Egolf’s company’s application was communicated by the Governor’s closest and perhaps longest serving political advisor, Dominic Gabello:

The next article will focus on the manner by which the Governor’s and NMEDD’s public information officers clearly endeavored to keep the approval of the $750,000 on the down low.

Some Background Notes about this Series of Articles:

Mark Roper, currently the Governor’s Acting Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development Department, was a key figure in the emails The Candle received regarding the LEDA grant application of the Egolf company.

Over the last eighteen months, The Candle requested to speak with former secretary Keyes, Roper, and other officials responsible for preparing the documentation and approval of a $750,000 LEDA (Local Economic Development Act) grant and tens of thousands of dollars of state money under the state’s Job Training Incentive Program.

NMED’s spokesman repeatedly told The Candle the officials were unavailable.

A week ago, on a Sunday, Roper was reached on his cell phone. He refused to offer any comment on questions being asked and ended the conversation quickly stating that he had provided all the information The Candle had requested through responses to the IPRA requests.

His response was less than disingenuous, as there is an outstanding IPRA request to which his agency has been delinquent in responding.

Civil Conspiracy and Fraud Lawsuit Filed Against Kelly and Brian Egolf

As originally reported in the the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Egolfs, and unnamed alleged co conspirators, have been sued by several of their original investment partners in NM Fresh Foods for purportedly violating fiduciary duty, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, among other actions.

While most media reporting has been primarily focused on the lawsuit and as a battle between financially well-heeled investors, The Candle reporting will focus on the use of public funds and non profit foundation funds to benefit the Egolf related companies; and the assertions of state officials regarding the appropriateness of the Lujan Grisham administration providing the company with hundreds of thousands of state dollars.

NM EDD Releases $150,000 in LEDA Funds, After Amending NM Fresh Foods Agreement Reducing the Number of New Jobs It Needed to Create

The Candle will soon publish documents highlighting the changes made in the original agreement NM Fresh Food’s Kelly Egolf signed in March of 2021, which provided the conditions her company needed to meet as to the number of jobs created before the company could receive any disbursement of state funds that were to be held in a secured account.

The original agreement was amended in early October 2022, during the time period that the company was in dire straits according to the lawsuit referred to above.

The Santa Fe Community Foundation and Other Investors

The documents received in response to The Candle’s IPRA requests, also revealed a $375,000 loan the Egolf company received from the Santa Fe Community Foundation, as well as a list of the “Interested Parties.”

These documents were attached to an application which had to be approved by another state agency, the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), for the economic development program involving the state, Bernalillo County, and NM Fresh Foods, under the Community Development Block Grant process.

The documents included:

In December, after learning from an NMEDD employee that NM Fresh Foods had missed filing its required quarterly employee development report with the state agency, The Candle emailed the head of the Santa Fe Community Foundation several questions about the loan, including if his organization had received any repayment of the loan made to the Egolf company.

The Foundation was silent.

On February 8, 2023, The Candle sent another email asking the same questions.

Again, no response from the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

While the Foundation has since answered some questions from other news outlets, the spokesperson and the CEO remain unresponsive to inquiries as to when it became aware of efforts to transfer ownership of assets of NM Fresh Foods to INVICTUS Unlimited, the Egolf’s newer company.

The Candle will be reporting next week on the efficacy of the so-called “impact investment loan(s)” made to the Egolfs and other investors in NM Fresh Foods.