This is a story you will have to read from start to finish. This story reads like a Steven King novel but is non-fiction, where real lives have been impacted. We will offer you this much: the end of the story should come as a shock but living in Albuquerque, you will simply say to yourself, "Why doesn’t anybody do something about it!?!"
In 2001 a local Albuquerque hi-tech company named InLight Solutions spun off of two companies: Lumidigm and TruTouch. Lumidigm initially was a research and development company focusing on bio-metric technology. They developed devices that could identify certain things by the mere touch of a person’s skin upon a light emitting sensor. Lumidigm’s devices could confirm a person’s identity via reading their thumbprint or other devices could determine blood-sugar levels or analyze the amount of alcohol in a person’s system. This technology was sought after by many government agencies and was highly promoted by Lumidigm:
“Our device ensures it's a real finger, and ensures you get a good-quality image."--Robert Rowe, Chief Technology Officer of Lumidigm. Albuquerque Journal, 8/22/05.
Lumidigm’s sister company, TruTouch, produced products incorporating Lumidigm’s devices. One such product was the TruTouch 1800 which was a machine that could determine a person’s blood-alcohol level by mere touch. Instead of requiring the invasive procedures otherwise used by drawing breath, blood, or urine, the TruTouch 1800BC presented a means to easily assess a person’s BAC and in only about a minute’s time.
In 2005 then Representative, Heather Wilson (R-NM), and then Bernalillo County Sheriff, Darren White, announced $500,000 in federal funding used to support a pilot program using emerging technology to combat drunk driving. In June 2006, Senator, Pete Domenici (R-NM), announced that TruTouch received more funding. This funding was in the form of a $216,000 federal Small Business Innovation Research grant to assist in its blood-alcohol measurement research. Domenici stated, “…new technologies like this can be used to help make our roads safer.” TruTouch’s target market for its product was now public record; Law enforcement.
Later in the year the Albuquerque Journal reported the CEO of MADD highlighted the importance of technology offered by TruTouch in that, “[E]merging technology is one of the most promising and potentially effective approaches to eliminate drunk driving in this country.” The paper added:
“The state doesn’t need another person or family coming home from a soccer tournament…to be slaughtered by another drunk who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel in the first place.”—Albuquerque Journal, 11/19/06.
In February 2006, the Bernalillo County Commissioners considered a $494,000 proposal by TruTouch to pilot a DWI enforcement program using three TruTouch 1800 machines. In praise of TruTouch, Darren White boasted, “[t]his is the future of DWI technology…I was a DWI officer almost 20 years ago, and the machine that we use to do the breath tests is pretty much the same, with just a few minor changes. I think this is going to revolutionize the how law enforcement does DWI investigations." (Albuquerque Journal, 2/27/07).
With almost $1Million in public funding, a local market rich in application, and the chief officer of one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the State, the Albuquerque Journal correctly opined that “TruTouch Tech Ready to Grow in 2008” (Albuquerque Journal, 1/7/08). In February 2008, White announced his candidacy for the Congressional seat being vacated by Heather Wilson. And with the 2008 Summer rapidly closing in, the Bernalillo County Commissions granted $380,000 to Darren White’s department to buy three TruTouch 1800BC machines and use them in the field. In typical bombast, White stated, “[l]ong term, my sense is this device will revolutionize the way we conduct DWI investigations.” Noting that BCSO is the first law enforcement agency in the country to use this technology, it is important to get machines field tested so that their results can be validated in the field and can be used as evidence in the court “…hoping that within two years courts in NM will recognize the device.” (Albuquerque Journal, 5/29/08).
With headlines like “APD Pulls Out All Stops in Summer Crackdown,” the May 30, 2008 Albuquerque Journal editorialized the importance of a zero tolerance approach to DWI and promoted BCSO’s new TruTouch devices and that they will be used in the field by deputies.
But then, it all disappeared.
With the entire ramp up, federal and state money, public rhetoric, promotion, and more DWI tragedy, the success of TruTouch’s vaunted machines disappeared in the news until October 27, 2008 when it was revealed TruTouch’s then-President, James McNally, and board member David Durgin made illegal campaign contributions to candidate White. Martin Heinrich then walked over White's grave winning the seat by over 12-points. In February 2009, Bernalillo County severed ties with TruTouch because of its company leaders making illegal contributions to White in violation of state law. White slinked away and remained quiet until October 6, 2009 where upon RJ Berry won the Albuquerque mayor’s race. Berry immediately confirmed that White would be the city’s new public safety czar overseeing the largest public safety agencies in the state with White resigning as Bernalillo County Sheriff.
Yet the story of White’s involvement with and for TruTouch only evolved. BCSO’s new sheriff, Dan Houston, made a startling discovery one day in late winter of 2011. Houston found the three TruTouch machines sitting in a closet off of a conference room. The TruTouch 1800BC units were still in the packaging, having never been used. Because over $1Million of public money had been spent on these three machines for no legitimate purpose, Houston invited the state’s attorney general Gary King to investigate the matter. White immediately projected blame on TruTouch stating that:
“After many failed attempts to get TruTouch to address our concerns, we offered to renegotiate a contract with terms for which we hoped they could comply, in order to put the equipment to use.—Darren White. Albuquerque Journal, 3/15/11.
TruTouch responded by saying not only did they provide training to BCSO personnel but they had multiple sessions and such training was a component of their contract with the county. TruTouch’s CEO, Richard Gill, added, “On checking our records, it seems BCSO failed to follow up on the several TruTouch solicitations to move forward.” And that TruTouch’s invoice was paid in full by the County upon satisfaction of all of its elements. (Albuquerque Journal, 3/9/11)
On March 15, 2011, the Albuquerque Journal, reported that the NM DOT bought six TruTouch machines for $78,000 and that the machines were working fine and were deployed at different offices throughout the state. On June 30, 2011 AG King sent White and Wilson letters requesting to be interviewed with respect to their involvement with the funding and alleged use of the TruTouch 1800BC machines. Since then, the story over White’s involvement with TruTouch has all but disappeared.
Given White’s endless promotion of how their product was to “revolutionize” DWI investigations, how BCSO was a pilot agency leading to evidentiary certification of the machines and thus national sales for TruTouch to law enforcement agencies across the country, and given White’s status as BCSO’s leader and his note stating:
“The Sheriff…will oversee the project and expenditure of grant funds and submit all necessary reports to the proper agencies.”—Darren P. White, 2/19/08.
How is it even a plausible consideration White failed to pursue the use of these machines?
When confronted with the unused machines, White asserted that TruTouch simply failed to train BCSO how to use the units. With so much hype surrounding the machine’s effectiveness, with so much at stake involving DWI enforcement (remember this is in the aftermath of the drunk driver, Papst, murdering an entire family), with so much public money invested in a sole company where corporate leaders illegally contributed to his federal campaign during the time he states they wouldn’t communicate with him, with TruTouch at the threshold of national sales, we are supposed to believe Darren White?
Obviously, there is a bigger issue here. Bernalillo County paid over $126,500 per TruTouch machine, whereas, NM DOT paid about $13,000 per unit. And while TruTouch has continued to move forward with their products, they have yet to make an entry into the law enforcement field and primarily rely on sales to employers who use the units to make sure employees are not drunk at work. But TruTouch’s sister company Lumidigm has had stunning growth. They have recently sold 12,000 scanners to the Brazilian market and have about a 30-percent growth in sales revenue each year since 2006. (Albuquerque Journal, 7/2/12).
How big of an issue is White’s involvement with TruTouch we wonder? Is it enough to jeopardize the multi-million dollar and national security oriented business of Lumidigm? Why would White obviously lie about his relationship with TruTouch? It seems in the fall of 2009 we had an opportunity to find out. White was called as a defense witness for Brad Ahrensfield and was expected to testify in support of Ahrensfield by confirming Ahrensfield had not provided information to Car Shop owner and alleged target, Shawn Bryan. Yet, upon taking the stand, White reversed himself from previous representations and stated he did not know Bryan and certainly had no knowledge that would be in support of Ahrensfield. Former APD Officer, Ahrensfield, was being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney, Tera Neda. Why does this matter?
Ms. Neda’s husband is Dr. Robert Rowe, Chief Technology Officer for Lumidigm and patent holder of technology used by Lumidigm and TruTouch. The facts appear to support that Ahrensfield’s case seems to be a collateral issue involving White, Rowe, TruTouch, and Lumidigm. If White were to be truthful regarding his friendship with Bryan, would he not jeopardize all of the business interests of Lumidigm and TruTouch and mire both companies in scandal? Because Ms. Neda had a vested interest, via her husband, and her husband had direct financial interests in a witness adversarial to her case, should she have recused herself? Would this have been a huge conflict of interest? Did White commit perjury on the stand or was he “influenced” by the relationship with Dr. Rowe? Why didn't Tera Neda disclose this conflict of interest to the courts and/or the defense?
Clearly, there are major issues involving all of these parties that go beyond the scale and jurisdiction of local or state law enforcement. It appears there is fraudulent use of federal funds, false applications for grants, misrepresentation to investigators, and malfeasance by public officials. While AG King initiated an inquiry into this matter with Heather Wilson and Darren White, it seems that investigation has gone nowhere. “Nowhere” is sadly becoming the standard location of holding people in power in New Mexico accountable. Since the "G-boys" were quick to go after a cop; let's see how fast they are to go after one of their own. We have done all the work for them short of prosecution...