AG And Insurance Company Spar Over Taxes, Lawmakers Concerned With Wolf Recovery Plan

Sep 12, 2017

State Putting Up Warning Signs After Deadly Dust StormsThe Associated Press & KOAT  

The New Mexico Department of Transportation says it will put up warning signs along a dust-prone stretch of I-10 near the Arizona-New Mexico border where many people have died.

KOAT-TV reports the state is spending $5 million on the warning system. The signs will tell drivers what precautions to take during a dust storm. They will be placed at every 2 miles (3 kilometers), beginning at Lordsburg.

The department will also add more dust sensors and large, electrical signs that will warn drivers when a storm is approaching.

Officials say the signs should be installed by the end of October. Officials are also planning to expand the shoulder at this portion of I-10 so drivers have more room to pull over.

New Mexico Prosecutor, Insurance Company Spar Over Taxes – The Associated Press

A standoff over millions of dollars in unpaid insurance premium taxes is escalating between New Mexico's attorney general and the state's largest health-care insurance provider.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday renewed accusations that a for-profit insurance arm of Presbyterian Healthcare Services used an illegal accounting procedure to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes and surcharges on insurance premiums.

Subsidiary Presbyterian Health Plan has denied that it owes the state of New Mexico additional premium taxes.

It filed a motion Monday to dismiss the attorney general's lawsuit. Presbyterian says state insurance regulators reviewed and approved the company's amendments to past tax payments.

At a news conference in Albuquerque, Balderas urged Presbyterian to pay off tax liabilities dating back to 2003 that were circumvented with an "illegal amendment."

Manager Accused Of Stealing From New Mexico Charter SchoolThe Associated Press

A review of an Albuquerque charter school already on the radar for financial mismanagement has turned up new allegations that a former business manager likely embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years.

The State Auditor's Office outlined the allegations in a report release Tuesday without naming the ex-employee.

The report states the employee is the daughter of the school's former executive director, who resigned after auditors determined she had doctored a receipt to receive improper reimbursement.

An earlier audit of La Promesa Early Learning Center highlighted late payments and missing or inaccurate documents.

The latest inquiry accuses the former manager of depositing over 500 checks written to various vendors into personal accounts. She's also accused of depositing checks payable to her mother and boyfriend, a vendor of the school.

Auditors have forwarded their findings to law enforcement.

Some New Mexico Lawmakers Concerned With Wolf Recovery PlanAssociated Press

Some state lawmakers in New Mexico say a plan for recovering endangered Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest is flawed and politically driven.

The 21 Democrats outlined their concerns in a letter sent recently to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is seeking public comments as it works to meet a court-ordered deadline to have a recovery plan completed by the end of November.

The plan is a long time coming as the original guidance for restoring the species was adopted in 1982. The lack of a plan has spurred legal challenges and skirmishes over states' rights under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The lawmakers say federal officials should specify a target for wolf releases as well as a benchmark for genetic diversity among the population in New Mexico and Arizona.

Two Leaders Of Religious Sect Plead Not Guilty To Child AbuseAssociated Press

Two leaders of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect have pleaded not guilty to charges connected to a child abuse investigation.

Deborah Green and Peter Green entered pleas Monday in Cibola County District Court.

Co-leader Deborah Green and high-ranking leader Peter Green of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps are being held on $500,000 cash surety bond in connection with child sexual abuse charges stemming from a raid last month on their compound.

The secluded compound is in the high desert of western New Mexico.

Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, faces 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child on suspicion of raping a girl from the time she was 7.

The group, founded in California, says the allegations are "totally false."

Second Albuquerque Mayor Hopeful Faces Complaint Over DonationsAssociated Press

A supporter of an Albuquerque mayoral candidate has filed a complaint against another candidate over donations.

Bernalillo County resident Terry Brunner filed on Monday an ethics complaint against Albuquerque mayoral hopeful and Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson. The complaint alleges that Johnson's mayoral campaign has accepted around $40,000 in donations from donors who have ongoing county business.

Brunner is a supporter of Albuquerque mayoral candidate Tim Keller.

Johnson called the complaint "laughable" and says the donors in question no longer have ongoing business with the county. He said the complaint was retaliation by Keller for Johnson filing a complaint against him.

The publicly financed Keller faced scrutiny last week after his campaign manager reportedly solicited nearly $30,000 in cash donations.

Johnson filed a complaint against Keller with the city's ethic board.

US Officials Celebrate Desalination Plant In New MexicoAssociated Press

Federal water managers are in New Mexico this week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a research center dedicated to pursuing technology that can turn brackish groundwater into usable water.

Officials with the Bureau of Reclamation will be in Alamogordo on Tuesday and Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the national desalination research facility. Experts from NASA, the U.S. Agriculture Department and the University of New Mexico also will be on hand.

The center is the only major research facility in the United States dedicated solely to the desalination of brackish and impaired groundwater.

One of its first projects was a water purifier that was used following Hurricane Katrina to provide water for a regional hospital. The system was developed by a team of military and Bureau of Reclamation researchers.

State Land Office Offers Property In Growing New Mexico CityAssociated Press

More homes could be springing up in one of New Mexico's fastest-growing cities as the State Land Office has put up for bid a few dozen acres of state trust land in Rio Rancho.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the 50-acre parcel is within a master-planned community east of Rio Rancho's city center. Bidding starts at $2.5 million, and prospective buyers will have to pay in cash once the sale closes in November.

Dunn says the sale will generate revenue for public schools and other trust land beneficiaries.

The Land Office says that during the last decade, 3,500 acres (1,416 hectares) have been leased, sold or exchanged to the city of Rio Rancho. That includes what is now home to the city center, an adjacent convention center and a regional hospital.

New Mexico Attorney General Fights Call To Serve As WitnessAssociated Press

State prosecutors are asking a court to reject an unusual effort to call New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas as a witness at a high-profile corruption trial being prosecuted by his office.

Balderas is being listed as a potential witness as an October trial date approaches for Sen. Phil Griego on allegations that he used his position as a state senator to profit from the 2014 sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe without proper disclosure.

Balderas spokesman James Hallinan on Monday described the maneuver as a "last ditch effort by Phil Griego's defense attorney to delay the trial."

Defense attorney Thomas Clark is listing Balderas as a trail witness and highlighting a $1,500 campaign contribution by Griego to the attorney general's 2014 campaign.

New Mexico Conquistador Protester Faces Felony ChargesAssociated Press

An organizer of a protest against a re-enactment of the return of Spanish conquerors to New Mexico after a 17th century American Indian revolt is facing felony charges.

Jennifer Marley of San Ildefonso Pueblo has been charged with trespassing and two counts of battery on a police officer. Defense attorney Dan Cron said Monday that Marley plans to plead not guilty and denies all charges.

Authorities say Marley struck two officers with a sign while attempting to march past them toward the Santa Fe Plaza.

Marley was one of 8 people in Santa Fe arrested last week during a protest about the Entrada — the costumed re-enactment that drew criticism from Native American activists.

An activist group named The Red Nation says Santa Fe police targeted Marley.

ACLU Probes Whether Protesters' Rights ViolatedSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is exploring whether civil rights violations occurred in the arrests of protesters at a re-enactment of the return of Spanish conquerors to New Mexico after a 17th century Indian revolt.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports ACLU Staff Attorney Kristin Love said Monday the watchdog group on civil liberties has begun collecting information about the arrests of eight protesters in downtown Santa Fe as part of a preliminary investigation.

Police have filed trespassing charges against the eight protesters. One protest organizer faces additional charges of battery on a police officer.

Most of the arrests were made as officers cleared the Santa Fe Plaza on Friday of protesters after the re-enactment of the arrival of Don Diego de Vargas in 1692.

Pageantry supporters say they are honoring their Spanish heritage, paying homage to the Roman Catholic faith and highlighting reconciliation with Native Americans. Activists say the celebration obscures the cruelty de Vargas inflicted on Pueblo Indians as he stamped out resistance to Spanish rule.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Trying To Outlaw Revenge PornDaily Times, Associated Press

A Navajo Nation Council delegate is trying to outlaw revenge porn.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that Delegate Jonathan Hale is sponsoring a bill that would make it a crime under tribal law to distribute sexually graphic images without a person's consent.

Hale says there's a need to develop such protections as more tribal members use electronic devices to communicate.

He adds he heard a report this year from the Naa'bik'íyáti' Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee about a young woman who had explicit images of herself shared on social media without her consent.

He says the woman sought legal action in tribal court but found out no law existed to address image exploitation.

Eastern New Mexico University Eyes Out-Of-State Tuition CutEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

Eastern New Mexico University regents are considering a proposal aimed at reducing out-of-state tuition.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports regents for the college will discuss the plan Thursday. Under the proposal, tuition for out-of-state students would decrease from 203 percent of in-state tuition to 150 percent.

ENMU President Jeff Elwell said in a letter to regents that out-of-state students "paid an average of $13,819 more than their in-state peers" in 2014 and 2015.

The proposal comes as most universities in the state are seeing a decline in student enrollment.