Benigna: From now on, whenever you tell me that you are going to call me and you don't — you will have to grant me a wish! Okay?
Abel: Absolutely : -)
Benigna: Papi, don't be mad, but I need one of those passionate hugs from u — I am feeling down....
Then about midnight a few days before New Year's Day 2004, Benigna carbon-copied Abel a message she had sent to the county budget office. It requested an announcement of an opening for a manager position in her department. Guess who got the job three months later? That's right. Abel. He received a $2137 pay increase. It's the same position he now holds. In the past three and a half years, his salary has skyrocketed $23,063. He reports directly to Benigna, who wrote in his 2005 performance evaluation that Abel "has consistently surpassed the expectations of this rater by quickly providing solutions to issues."
Gutman-Valdes says Abel was more than qualified for the job. "He was interviewed by a three-person panel who rated him the highest over two other candidates," she says.
Sixty pages of printouts that appear to represent the e-mails began circulating in the county planning and zoning department early this year. Virtually all are conversations between Benigna and Abel. It's not clear who distributed them or why. Two zoning division staffers — who wish to remain anonymous — recall seeing the material, which they say was also shown to then-Director Dianne O'Quinn Williams. Moreover, the printouts appear authentic, according to a spokesperson for the county's information technology office, but the only way to check their veracity is by scanning the pair's computers.
The county's Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is probing the matter, according to Executive Director Robert Meyers. County conflict-of-interest rules bar officials from using their positions to secure special privileges and exemptions for themselves and others. Asked if the e-mails prove anything, Meyers responded, "I can't answer that because we are investigating them."