Chapter 2: Information Gathering
Matthew Dudley was walking through the Independent Living Unit a few days later, with no particular direction in mind. In principle, he was attending to a series of minor repair and maintenance projects, but his mind was elsewhere. He remained deeply troubled by the apparent murder of Conrad Alexander. He felt a sense of guilt for not reaching out to Alexander as they passed almost daily in the Dining Room, particularly after Paloma had expressed concern over his sadness.
He was also frustrated that he had not been able to be of any assistance to Lt. Garcia in solving this crime. Whoever had done this terrible thing had not left any clues in the apartment and Dudley had been back several times to look around.
As he continued down the hallway, he noticed Martina Trujillo sitting on the floor. She had her knees pulled up tightly to her chest and was sobbing softly. Dudley approached quietly and sat down on the floor next to her. “I am also very sad, Martina, about Mr. Alexander’s death.”
“Oh, Señor Doc, he was such a kind man. He reminded me of my own Papa before he got sick.”
Dudley asked, “So, Martina, how is your Papa? I hope he is well. And, how is your Mama?”
Dudley’s overture was met with more intense sobbing. “My Papa is not well at all. He keeps doing very strange things and he wanders away from home almost every night now. My Mama is very tired and is unable to handle him any longer. My brother and I try to help, but we have families of our own to care for. Some of the neighbors are helping to find him when he goes out at night. We just don’t know what to do.”
“Have you taken your Father to the doctor? Maybe he could give you some suggestions.”
“No, my Papa refuses to go to the doctor. One of the older ladies in their neighborhood says that he is simply losing his mind. She told my Mama that this is common with old people, particularly men.”
“Martina, has anyone suggested that your Father may have a disease called Alzheimer’s or did he mention dementia?”
“No, but one of the other girls here at la Vida Aureo mentioned that about her Father when we were all talking after work one day. Carolina said that the doctor did some tests like you do in school with her Father and then told them that this proved he had Alzheimer’s disease.”
“I am sorry to hear that your Father’s behavior is getting worse. I know how hard you’ve worked to help him as he’s gotten older and what a burden it is on your whole family. Would it be OK with you if I asked one of the women in our Community Assist Program to talk to you? She may be able to give some information that might help.”
“I would like that, Señor Doc. Mila Espalin has talked with a group of us several times after work. She is a very nice lady.”
“I will ask her to make a point of talking to you about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sure she can give you some information to help you understand your Father and know what to expect. Now, let’s dry those tears. There are other Residents here who depend on you. You have my promise that I am doing everything I can to help the police find out who did this terrible thing to Mr. Alexander.”
Despite his “pep talk” for Martina, Dudley was still struggling with his own emotions. He decided that he would go downstairs where he knew the Community Assist Team was currently meeting. Hopefully, they were continuing to make progress on their key initiatives which always buoyed his spirits.
The meeting of the Team was in progress when Dudley slipped quietly into the conference room. The Team had made considerable progress with their initiative for improved home safety. They had prepared a series of Information Cards with simple things that people could do for themselves to reduce the risk of falls and other in-home injuries. They had also begun talking with local contractors about doing more complicated modifications.
Minot Atkinson was leading an effort to develop a simple web-site where all of the information could be posted to make it readily available to a wider audience. Her goal was to reach individuals who could use the information for their families, particularly those with aging parents or relatives.
As the individual Team members went about their Tasks, they continued to uncover additional situations of fraud and abuse within the healthcare system. Team Leader, Beth Ford, had suggested that the Team hold their findings until near the end of the meeting. She wanted to focus on all the positive gains and accomplishments. And, she hoped that Matthew Dudley would attend so that they could discuss the best strategy for handling this information. When she saw Dudley enter the room, she knew the time was appropriate to address this disturbing issue. “OK, Team, we are making great progress. In the few minutes left in today’s meeting, let’s turn our attention to the new things we’ve learned about personal information theft. Why don’t you start, Mikaylah?”
“Thanks, Beth. I guess because I’m the Newby, I find this activity particularly disturbing. We’ve all noticed how there seems to be loads of home health-care agencies popping up all over the City. As I’ve driven around town, I made it a point to stop in several agencies and strike up a casual conversation. In too many instances, the discussion turns quickly to the Agency’s need for personal information. When I question that need, the response is typically that’s “the Law or the Regulations require it”. They all just hide behind that flimsy excuse and will not discuss it further. Personally, I am suspicious.”
Arnetta Valencia spoke next. “I have several long-time friends who are Nurse Practitioners. They really enjoy interacting with patients and some have taken jobs doing home visits to perform an annual wellness check-up. Some of the Insurance Companies have initiated this approach and I think it makes a lot of sense. It is certainly consistent with our goal of keeping people in their homes longer. The major part of this wellness survey is collecting information which is entered into a form on the insurance company’s web-site. Anyway, one of my friends told me of a situation where she noticed the same nondescript van at several of the homes she visited recently. Since she connects to the web-site over a wireless network, she worried that her entries were being intercepted by someone in this van. After her most recent visit where the same van was present, she approached the van to talk to the driver. When he saw her coming, he sped away. She did manage to get the license plate number which she reported to her Supervisor. It’s an issue we’ve discussed before within the Team. As more personal information is collected over computer networks, I believe the opportunities for theft will increase dramatically. This just seems like one more instance where technology can be used for good and evil, almost simultaneously.”
“Thank you, Arnetta, anyone else?”
“I don’t know if this is a problem, or if someone was just to sound more important,” said Mila Espalin. “One of the women at my church has a job with a small firm that processes health claims. She told me that her firm is some sort of “middle-man” in the network between the patients, doctors, hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, etc. It is her job to review the claims that are submitted and insure that the proper codes are entered for each procedure. As I understand it, that code determines who gets reimbursed and for how much. As I said, I don’t know if she was just trying to impress me or she really acts this way. She said that, with the Affordable Care Act, there are literally thousands of new code categories and she has to be knowledgeable about all of them. Then she said that she could mark down any code she wanted and no one would ever know the difference. She said that, if she’s having a bad day, or if she just feels like it, she can direct money or payment to almost anyone she wants, or make sure that no one gets anything at all. It just seems to me that this is one more area that could easily be abused if someone had a mind to.”
“Thanks, Mila. Mr. Dudley, you’ve been sitting quietly in the back listening to these reports. It is certainly not our job to try to correct these potentially harmful situations, but I feel this information needs to get to the proper authorities. Would that Lieutenant Garcia who spoke to us a while ago be the proper person?”
“I suppose so, Beth. But, it might make more sense to try to address these issues on a larger scale than through the local police. It’s probably some combination of local and state, maybe even federal, authority. I don’t know. I believe I will have an opportunity to talk to Lt. Garcia in the very near and I will mention it to him and ask his opinion.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dudley. Well, if there is nothing else, I want to thank the Team for another positive meeting and continued progress. Meeting adjourned!”
Dudley stopped Mila Espalin as they were leaving the conference room. “Mila, could I ask a favor?”
“I believe you know Martina Trujillo who is part of the La Vida Aureo staff. I understand that her Father’s mental condition continues to deteriorate. I don’t know if he has Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, but Martina and her Mother are struggling with ways to cope with his erratic and potentially dangerous behavior. Could you please talk with her and give her some suggestions?”
“I would be glad to. In these situations, information is the key. If Martina and her Mother knew what to expect and what behaviors are typical, perhaps they would be better able to cope with him. I have some pamphlets from the local Alzheimer’s Association and I’m certain there are more available. I will also give her the name of a support group that meets in her neighborhood, probably at the local library. That should be another source of strength and encouragement.”
“Thank you, Mila. I know Martina will be most appreciative.”
Lieutenant Garcia had continued his investigation and decided his first interview would be with Conrad Alexander’s lawyer, Serafino Huerfano. Señor Huerfano was a partner in the prestigious Albuquerque law firm of Rothschild, Epstein, Schwartz and Huerfano with offices on the top three floors of the Wells Fargo Bank building downtown. Garcia expected to be treated with minimal respect when he entered through the firm’s large oak doors. But, the receptionist greeted him warmly and said that he was to be taken to Mr. Huerfano immediately.
As Garcia entered the office, Huerfano rose from his large desk and walked to greet Garcia with an outstretched hand. He directed Garcia to two large arm chairs in a corner of the spacious office. “Let’s sit over here where we can be more comfortable. Can I get you a coffee or water? I presume you are here about my good friend Conrad Alexander.”
“Yes. I believe you are aware that you are listed as Mr. Alexander’s Emergency Contact at La Vida Aureo. I understand that he has no other family and I was hoping that you could provide me with some general background information.”
“Certainly. Conrad and I were friends for many years. We first met when he was a young engineer trainee with the Power Company, working in southern New Mexico, near my home. Over the years, as we each pursued our lives and careers, we remained in contact and established what you might call a tradition of meeting for a simple dinner on each other’s birthday. Conrad was a many of exceptional integrity and vision and a true friend.”
“I am sorry for your loss, Señor Huerfano. As his friend and lawyer, what do you know of his health issues?”
“Sadly, yes. Conrad and his late wife were always conscientious about their affairs. He came to me after his wife’s death to update his personal will and estate planning. It was at that time that he revealed to me just how serious his own health was and that the doctors had not given him very long to live. It speaks to the character of the man that he put aside his own health concerns to care for his wife during her last and most difficult months. In hindsight, I believe that may have exacerbated his own condition, but he would not have had it any other way. I am named Executor of his estate and will perform my duties in a few weeks.
“Can you tell me anything about his career at New Mexico Power & Light or his civic activities?”
“I doubt that I can tell you much more than you could learn from various public sources. There weren’t any secrets in Conrad’s life and, as an executive at the Power Company, most everything is a matter of public record. The same probably holds for his civic and charitable work. You could talk to Graham Wright who was the former CEO and Board Chairman at the Company and Conrad’s mentor for much of his career. He has an office on the tenth floor of this bldg.”
“Thanks, I’ll follow up with Mr. Wright. I think you’ve already implied this, but can you think of anyone who would want to kill Mr. Alexander?”
“Absolutely not! In all the years I knew Conrad, I never heard him speak against anyone. I’m sure there were people he didn’t particularly care for, but he kept those feelings to himself.”
“Thank you once again for your time, Señor Huerfano. Just one more question. Does the name Donald Pearsall mean anything to you?”
“Not anything in particular, but I believe he is with the Power Company. Graham could probably tell you if that is correct.”
Garcia decided, since he was in the building, he would see if he could talk with Graham Wright. The sign on the door said simply Graham Wright and Garcia entered and was greeted by a receptionist/secretary. Garcia presented his APD card and asked if Mr. Wright was available. “No,” said the Secretary. “You just missed him. He is at a luncheon meeting with the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce and should return later this afternoon. I assume you’re here in connection with Mr. Alexander’s death. It is such a tragedy. He visited Mr. Wright on occasion and was always the perfect gentleman. Shall I call you when Mr. Wright is available?”
“Thank you. I would appreciate that very much. I will make myself available whenever is convenient with Mr. Wright.”
Garcia knew that an investigation of this sort would evolve slowly, but was frustrated that he hadn’t learned any new information so far. New Mexico Power & Light’s corporate offices were only a few blocks away and Garcia decided to attempt to interview Donald Pearsall. It was Pearsall’s name in Alexander’s calendar-planner that told Garcia that this interview would be different from the pleasantness with Señor Huerfano and probably Graham Wright. Garcia realized that Pearsall might be the last person to see Alexander alive and, for that reason alone, was a potential suspect, or at least a “person of interest”. For that reason, Garcia knew that he had to approach this interview cautiously and be alert to Pearsall’s voice and body language.
Pearsall’s suite of offices were on the top floor of the NMP&L building and Garcia was somewhat taken aback by its appearance. Whereas Huerfano’s and Wright’s offices were understated elegance, Pearsall’s could only be described as ostentatious. “Early King Tut-style, thought Garcia. No wonder my electric bill keeps going up!” After presenting his card and stating his purpose, he was instructed to take a seat and the Receptionist said she would see if Mr. Pearsall was available.
About cooling his heels for about thirty minutes, Garcia was escorted down a long hallway to a large Conference Room where Donald Pearsall was in the final stages of loudly reprimanding someone over a speaker phone. The Secretary was apparently used to this behavior and simply waited until Pearsall abruptly ended the call. “Mr. Pearsall, this is Lieutenant Garcia from the Albuquerque Police.” She turned and quickly left the room, quietly closing the door behind her.
“I presume you’re here about Alexander’s death. I am afraid I can’t help you. It’s been a while since I saw Conrad, particularly after he moved to that Old Folk’s Home. The paper said he was electrocuted. How the Hell did that happen?”
Garcia decided to proceed slowly with Pearsall, realizing that there was nothing to be gained by provoking him, at least at this point. In his mind, this was only Round One. “Thank you for taking time to see me, Mr. Pearsall. I know you’re very busy. I just have a few questions. That is correct. It appears that Mr. Alexander was electrocuted and we’re treating it as a homicide.”
“What? That makes no sense. Are you sure Old Conrad didn’t just decide to do himself in? I imaging he was pretty depressed. I mean, his wife had died recently and he was living like a hermit in that place.”
“We’re looking at several possibilities at this time. Can you tell me what your relationship was with Mr. Alexander?”
“Well, we obviously worked together here at NMP&L for most our careers, which I’m sure is general public knowledge, but we were usually in different Departments or locations. I took over as CEO when he retired about the time his wife died.”
“Did you and Mr. Alexander see each other socially, or in any civic or charitable activities?”
“No. Conrad was big into that kind of stuff, but my focus is on running this company and I have very little time for frivolous things.”
“I see. Can you think of anyone who might want to harm Mr. Alexander?”
“Not really. As I said, our paths didn’t cross that often. But, you don’t get to the top of this Food Chain without pissing a few people off. I can tell you that from personal experience.”
“I know you’re busy, but I have one more question, if you don’t mind, Mr. Pearsall. Can you tell me the last time you saw Mr. Alexander and where that would have been?’
“I told you, Lieutenant, we didn’t socialize and I didn’t see Conrad much after he left here. I don’t remember exactly, but it must be a couple of months ago, maybe even more. I suspect it was at some sort of on-site company function.”
“Thank you again for your time, Mr. Pearsall. If I have any further questions, I presume I can call you?”
“Just call my Secretary to make an appointment, but, as I said, I don’t think I can be of much help. And Lieutenant, I would look more closely at the suicide angle if I were you.”
Garcia smiled to himself as he headed back toward the Receptionist’s area. “You can count on seeing me again, you arrogant snob. For at least Round Two and maybe Three and Four!”
As he walked back to APD Headquarters, a plan began to form in Garcia’s mind. He was certain that most of what Pearsall had told him was false. He was obviously hiding something. The interview with Graham Wright was even more important and he hoped he could learn more about the relationship between Alexander and Pearsall as well as more about Pearsall himself. He would also challenge Sgt. Armijo to really dig and see what else was available about these two men. And, he needed to go back to La Vida Aureo and have another discussion with the woman who found Alexander’s body; maybe Doc could help there.