In recent months, the #MeToo movement has derailed the careers of big-name stars and studio execs right and left, but the impact isn’t limited to the rich and famous. One such case is affecting those in the below-the-line film and TV production community in New Mexico.
Jon Hendry, a longtime fixture of New Mexico’s film industry, resigned March 18 as the business agent of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480 after two women filed a lawsuit alleging that he sexually harassed them and engaged in discriminatory behavior. IATSE and the local were also named as defendants.
Less than a week earlier, the scandal had cut through the political scene in the Land of Enchantment. On March 13, Richard Ellenberg, chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, stepped down following a storm of criticism after he cast doubt on the credibility of the accusations against Hendry. While the events of the past few months appear to have occurred swiftly and decisively, many in the community are wondering whether the Hendry saga is ending or just beginning.
Even though Hendry’s no longer the union’s business agent, he’s still considered a member in good standing in Local 480. Word is out that he has been showing up on local sets, including recent shoots for Fox TV’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” and many are convinced he’s rallying crews and aiming for a return to his former job. “It’s a ‘When this is all over, I’m coming back’ kind of deal,” says a Local 480 member who witnessed one of Hendry’s set visits. “He’s still acting like he’s the business agent. He still tells productions who to hire.”
Whether or not this is true, it illustrates how much Hendry is feared in New Mexico, and not just by those worried they’ll be blackballed by the business if they cross him.
“There are people who are terribly afraid that without his influence there will be no productions here and that many people will lose their jobs and have to move,” says another longtime Local 480 member.
Hendry declined to comment for this story. His attorney, Sam Bregman, called the allegations “completely false.”
Even Hendry’s enemies are quick to admit that during his 15-year tenure as leader of Local 480, he lobbied tirelessly to preserve the film and TV incentive (currently a 25%-30% tax credit) that draws productions to the state. And, in the process, he established himself as a major player in state Democratic politics, a point well illustrated by Ellenberg’s ties — and demise.
Hendry’s resignation from Local 480 came just days after he was fired from his elected post as president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Earlier that month, Christa Valdez, Local 480’s outside public relations rep and Hendry’s first accuser, filed a sexual harassment suit alleging a “pattern of racketeering” during her five years working for the union that included Hendry continually harassing and intimidating her “with sexual propositions and inappropriate conditions to maintain employment.”
Shortly thereafter, second accuser Madeleine Lauve joined the suit, alleging that when she was an employee of Local 480, Hendry “subjected her to discriminatory conditions, including an explicit quid pro quo for sex.”
This was the first time Hendry had been publicly accused of sexual harassment, but allegations of racketeering and conflicts of interest are nothing new to the Scottish-born former rock ’n’ roll roadie.
“It was amazing how much it was ignored by everyone, but most importantly by the union itself, says Laurie Hudson, a former secretary-treasurer for Local 480, who left the state and the business after clashing with Hendry.
The first publicized incident came in February 2006, when Paulette de’Pascal, then working as a spokesperson for producer Christopher Coppola, filed a police report claiming that Hendry verbally assaulted her, threatening to withhold union labor from Coppola’s projects, after she spoke before the state legislature criticizing a production incentive bill (H.B. 358) Hendry supported.
The following year, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office launched a three-year investigation of Hendry’s management of a mentorship program for the state’s Film Technician Training Program, which he subcontracted from Local 480 to This Machine Prods., a company owned by his then girlfriend, Elizabeth (Lisa) Van Allen. A 20-count indictment was drafted in 2010 accusing Hendry of fraud, embezzlement and making or permitting a false voucher, but he was never formally charged.
Although sources say the two are no longer romantically involved, Van Allen remains a key figure in the ongoing Hendry saga. In 1997, the year before Hendry’s wife died of cancer, he and Van Allen formed Duke City Gourmet, which provides craft services to film and TV productions. Duke City also drew attention for tax issues involving its ownership of the Santa Fe Airport Grill. Officially, Hendry is no longer involved in the company — federal law prohibits union officers or employees from engaging in any business or transaction that conflicts with their fiduciary obligation to the union — but, according to numerous people interviewed, he’s not anything less than Van Allen’s partner.
Craft services worker Shaun Steagall says he rented food trailers from Duke City Gourmet for years. “If something needed to be fixed, Jon would send someone with his credit card or his cash to buy the parts,” he says.
Eventually, when Steagall couldn’t get his preferred trailer from the Duke City Gourmet fleet (“They have one trailer that’s nice,” he says) or get Hendry and Van Allen to invest in improvements on another, he decided it was time to buy his own. There were consequences. “Prior to that, I probably didn’t have a month off for three years straight, and afterward I couldn’t even get an interview for a job,” says Steagall. “I almost lost my house.”
As one of the first points of contact for visiting productions in New Mexico, Hendry was in a good position to steer work away from enemies and toward parties of his choosing, from casting agents, makeup artists and aspiring actresses to the Teamsters who towed the honeywagons.
“From a producer’s standpoint, why would you fight it? He’s going to make your life a lot easier if you go along with certain things,” says Steagall.
Hendry encountered little resistance when it came to spending Local 480’s money on things like its now-defunct Outreach program, which staged “behind the curtain” political events, where guests could eat free food, meet a state senator and maybe win the chance to appear as an extra on a show like “Longmire” or “Better Call Saul.” According to U.S. Dept. of Labor filings, Local 480 spent $220,415 on political activities and lobbying in 2017. It also has its own political action committee, Visions New Mexico, which spent another $35,978 during the same period, including $1,600 for web ads by Valdez’s company One Headlight Ink.
Even more intriguing are expenditures at the New Mexico Federation of Labor, which gave more than $54,600 to Visions during Hendry’s six-and-a-half-year tenure as president, making it far and away the PAC’s largest donor. When asked about potential conflicts of interest and rumors that Hendry was fired for financial improprieties, not the sexual harassment allegations, the labor council’s attorney Shane Youtz declined to comment.
Perhaps Hendry’s strangest use of union funds is his $160,000 investment in the Dude Motel, a funky five-unit complex in Truth or Consequences, N.M., that he touted as future low-cost retirement housing for Local 480 members. It’s currently renting two of its rooms for $35 a night on Airbnb, while the other three are undergoing renovation. Sierra County records show that ownership of the Dude was transferred to Local 480 in 2015 by Tea or Sea, owned by none other than former state Democratic Party chairman Ellenberg.
And the ties go much deeper. Ellenberg confirmed that he is a partner with Hendry in Zuni 480, which owns two properties behind Local 480’s Santa Fe offices, as well as a partner with Local 480 in Eye 480, which owns the Center for Progress & Justice next door to the union’s offices, which is the headquarters of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party.
According to a Local 480 source, the union may have to sell its interest in the Zuni 480 properties to make up a $200,000 deficit incurred last year, and the local could lose its independence to trusteeship. Meantime, the international arm of IATSE is investigating the local and trying to untangle Hendry’s maze of financial deals, a move that members say is long overdue.