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New Mexico: More on MTC warden.

The New Mexican
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Former Warden Returns to McKinley County Jail

While the new warden of the Santa Fe County jail is getting acquainted with the facility, the former warden is back in familiar territory as head of the prison in McKinley County.

Management and Training Corp., the company that runs both facilities, placed then-Warden Cody Graham on administrative leave from the Santa Fe jail this spring. The action came just three weeks after the Department of Justice issued a report that criticized many facets of the jail's operation.

A company spokesman said Graham's leave was unrelated to the justice department's report and to his performance as the warden, but Santa Fe County officials paint a different picture.

County jail monitor Greg Parish outlined complaints that had been lodged against Graham in a March 25, 2003, memo to the county commissioners, written the day after Graham's leave began.

"The complaints had to do with the unresponsiveness of the warden to conditions at the jail, his credibility, and the fact that his management style was creating a hostile work environment," Parish wrote.

The acting county manager, Steve Kopelman, had sent a letter to MTC in January to notify the company of the concerns, the memo said.

The same day Graham was placed on administrative leave, MTC appointed vice president Al Murphy as interim warden at the jail. Steve Hargett was named permanent warden in mid-April replacing Graham.

Sheriff Greg Solano, who took office in January, said he did not have a good relationship with Graham as a warden.

"I brought several concerns to him during my first few months in office, and when I would bring those concerns to him, he would tell me that he would take care of them. But a few weeks later, the concerns would still be there. They weren't taken care of," Solano said.

In March, the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department looked into allegations that Graham was involved in a pyramid scheme, charges that Solano said were not accurate.

"What he was involved in was some kind of home-business opportunity, like a get-rich-quick thing. Even though it operated somewhat like a pyramid scheme, it did not seem to meet the statute requirements for a criminal charge of a pyramid scheme," he said.

Several jail employees complained that Graham tried to talk them into investing in the business, Solano said. The sheriff's department informed MTC of the investigation, and they acted on it as a personnel issue, he said.

MTC put Graham on administrative leave while they conducted their own investigation into the complaint, according to Theresa Aramaki, the company's human-resources vice president.

Graham was involved in an outside business venture that he pitched to some jail employees, Aramaki said.

The warden even used the jail once to hold a membership meeting for investors, she said.

"Warden Graham, however, was adamant that staff could only attend the meeting if they were off duty at the time," Aramaki said in a statement.

Graham also believes his decision to have the meeting at the jail was a poor one, she said.

But Aramaki said using the word "fired" to describe what happened to the warden is wrong.

"MTC did not fire Warden Graham from the Santa Fe facility as he is a valued employee whose skills and experience are a great asset," she said.

Is it merely coincidence that Graham was being investigated by the sheriff at the same time the Department of Justice report came to light?

MTC communications director Carl Stuart says yes. The department investigators reviewed jail operations in May 2002, but the report was not published until nine months later, on March 6.

Many necessary improvements were made between the inspection and the report that resulted from it, Stuart said, and the company does not blame the warden for the issues raised by the department.

Graham had worked at the McKinley County Correctional Facility for about two years before coming to Santa Fe, and Stuart said that county's commissioners asked the company to bring him back.

Doug Decker, interim manager for McKinley County, said the county had a good experience with Graham in the past and agreed to his rehiring when officials at MTC explained the situation at the Santa Fe jail.

"We knew what we were getting with Cody, and we wanted that," Decker said.

Stuart said Graham decided to leave Santa Fe of his own volition because he felt like the change would be best for everyone involved.

"If the findings of the DOJ had shaken our feeling that he was a qualified warden, we wouldn't have taken the action that we did," Stuart said.

Graham said Friday he did not want to comment on his time at the Santa Fe jail.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe County Detention Center's interim warden has been working to correct operations at the jail.

Hargett said he was unsure what had happened with Graham and he had not asked MTC about the former warden before taking the job.

"I take whatever I have when I get there and try to do the very best that I can to improve it," Hargett said.

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