Jury Selection Begins In NM Corruption Trial, Settlement Reached In Insurance Case

Oct 28, 2017

New Mexico AG, Insurance Firm Reach $18.5M SettlementThe Associated Press

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has reached an $18.5 million settlement agreement with the state's largest health insurance provider over unpaid premium taxes.

Attorney General Hector Balderas on Monday announced the settlement with the for-profit insurance arm of Presbyterian Healthcare Services concerning unpaid insurance premium taxes dating back to 2003-2004.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services CEO Dale Maxwell says fraud allegations against the company were dropped prior to payment of the settlement. He says the payment will not interfere with the company's ability to provide health care coverage.

Prosecutors had accused insurance subsidiary Presbyterian Health Plan of using an illegal accounting procedure to avoid taxes and surcharges.

The settlement represents a larger amount than the $14.3 million in unpaid premium taxes described in a recent state-commissioned audit.

Jury Selection Begins In New Mexico Corruption TrialThe Associated Press

Jury selection has begun in the trial of former state Sen. Phil Griego on corruption charges tied to the sale of a state building in 2014.

Scores of potential jurors arrived Monday at a state district courthouse in Santa Fe as Attorney General Hector Balderas pressed forward with eight criminal charges against the former Democratic lawmaker from San Jose.

Griego is denying allegations that he used his former position as a state legislator to earn a $50,000 commission on the sale of a state building in downtown Santa Fe to owners of an upscale inn.

Opening arguments may take place as soon as Tuesday.

Griego resigned from the Legislature in the wake of a Senate Ethics Commission investigation that outlined conflicts with Senate rules and state constitutional provisions.

New Mexico Utility Seeks More Electricity Options- The Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric provider is putting out a request for proposals to provide power in the event that the coal-fired power plant it operates in the northwestern corner of the state were to shut down after 2022.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico plans to shutter two units at the San Juan Generating Station before the end of the year and has suggested that it will stop using coal as fuel by 2031.

The utility announced the request for proposals late last week, saying it's looking for a combination of sources that can ensure the reliability of the system. It pegged the amount at 456 megawatts.

The utility says it's also encouraging renewable and battery-storage options.

Interested parties will have until Nov. 30 to announce their intention to bid. Proposals will be due in January.

New Mexico Holds Final Hearing On Medicaid Proposals- The Associated Press

The New Mexico Human Services Department is holding its final public hearing on an array of proposed changes to the state's Medicaid health care program.

Officials say the changes are designed to keep costs down while improving the delivery of health care for New Mexico's poorest residents. But consumer advocates are warning that increasing premiums and copays will end up having negative effects on the use of health care services by people who need them most.

The final meeting is scheduled for Monday evening in Albuquerque. Other meetings have been held in Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Las Vegas.

Comments are due Nov. 6.

The department then plans to craft a final waiver application that will be submitted to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for approval.

Tribal Leaders Call Land-Use Bill Step In Right Direction- The Associated Press

Tribal leaders backed a House bill Wednesday that would give tribes the ability to control more of their land, instead of having to get federal approval for virtually any use.

The American Indian Empowerment Act would let tribes shift federally controlled trust land to "restricted fee land," a move that could save millions of dollars that tribes now spend on "burdensome regulation," while restoring a level of tribal sovereignty.

While they called the bill a step in the right direction, however, witnesses said they are concerned about ambiguities in the thin, three-page bill that "could allow state or local governments to implement property taxes on tribal land," among other issues.

Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said that clarifying those issues is necessary for tribes who, "given our history with the federal government are rightly concerned about any further loss of our lands."

Archbishop Of Santa Fe Pens Op-Ed On Sex Abuse Within Church- The Associated Press & The Albuquerque Journal

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe says the archdiocese has received only two allegations of clergy sexual misconduct involving children since 1993 because of the numerous strict measures aimed at preventing further abuse.

Archbishop John C. Wester published an op-ed in The Albuquerque Journal on Sunday expressing "sadness and shame over the betrayal of trust" by clergy "who were supposed to love and protect our children," and for the suffering of abuse survivors.

The op-ed follows the recent release by the archdiocese of a list of 74 clergy credibly accused of abuse and documents that shed light on how the church allowed three pedophile priests to continue to prey on New Mexico children more than 20 years ago.

Report: Los Alamos Lab Comes Up Short On Emergency Drills- The Associated Press & The Albuquerque Journal

A federal nuclear safety panel says Los Alamos National Laboratory has come up short during drills intended to show how the New Mexico lab would respond to potential emergencies such as radioactive leaks or earthquakes.

A letter and lengthy report sent this month by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the board found numerous weaknesses dating back to 2014.

While the board did not issue any final recommendations regarding the weaknesses, it detailed its findings in the report in hopes of helping the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration as the federal agencies address the lab's issues.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that among a long list of criticisms and findings in the report, lab crews regularly failed at establishing adequate incident command capabilities during the simulated emergencies. There was a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities, ineffective coordination and inadequate communication, among other things.

Santa Fe Post Office Closes Lobby Overnight Due To Homeless- The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

The downtown post office in New Mexico's capital city is locking up its lobby overnight because homeless people have taken to finding shelter there.

Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass says the overnight closure of the downtown Santa Fe post office's lobby stems from vandalism and safety concerns voiced by customers.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the closure between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. beginning Wednesday comes as chilly overnight temperatures begin to cause homeless people to seek refuge indoors.

Assistant Director Sue Carr of the Interfaith Community Shelter in Santa Fe says more people are spending the night at the shelter as the weather gets colder.

The shelter's overnight capacity is 123 people.

Los Alamos Lab Workers Contaminated By Radioactive MaterialAssociated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

Workers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were contaminated after radioactive particles were released into the air inside the lab's plutonium facility.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the lab accident last month was the second time in four weeks that the same crew was exposed to radioactive material. The clothes of three workers were contaminated as was the skin on one of them.

Lab spokesman Matt Nerzig says the three workers did not receive a measurable dose, and the public was not in danger. He says the worker with the skin contamination "was successfully and thoroughly decontaminated — mostly by washing off the contamination with water."

A report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board states the workers were wearing protective clothing and air purifying respirators.

Teen Accused Of School Threat Released From Juvenile Custody Associated Press

A 17-year-old boy accused of threatening to "shoot up" Los Alamos High School has been released from juvenile custody and allowed to attend an alternative education program.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports that the student will attend an alternative program at the school district's administration building and was ordered to stay away from the high school except to attend welding classes at a nearby University of New Mexico branch campus.

Under other conditions of his release, the student cannot have a weapon on school grounds, must wear a monitoring bracelet and not have contact with the high school principal.

The student is accused of making the alleged shooting threat Oct. 18 after he was expelled for vandalizing school property while out on another conditional release from a Sept. 12 incident,

Political Corruption Case Heads To Trial In New Mexico Associated Press

A Democratic former New Mexico state senator is scheduled for trial next week on corruption charges in a high-stakes showdown with state prosecutors.

Ex-Sen. Phil Griego is accused of using his position as a lawmaker and political insider to profit from the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe. Jury selection is schedule to start on Monday at a state district court in Santa Fe.

Griego resigned from the Legislature in 2015 at the conclusion of a Senate Ethics Commission investigation.

The office of Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas is pursuing charges of fraud, bribery and ethical misconduct against Griego.

New Mexico voters decide in November 2018 whether to create an independent state ethics commission to evaluate accusations of misconduct against public officials.

Air Force Officer Says He Was Disciplined For His Beliefs Associated Press

An Air Force colonel says he was wrongly disciplined after refusing to sign a certificate of appreciation to the same-sex spouse of a retiring master sergeant.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Leland Bohannon, who cited his religious beliefs for not signing the document, was relieved of his command of the inspection agency at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. A superior officer also sent a letter recommending against his promotion after an Equal Opportunity complaint against him was substantiated.

A religious liberties group is representing Bohannon and demands that the complaint is reversed and that related unfavorable materials are removed from his service record.

The certificate is an unofficial document traditionally given to the spouses of retiring military members. Bohannon has since been transferred to Washington, D.C.

Collection Of Former Latina Ambassador To Be Digitized Associated Press

The National Hispanic Cultural Center will be digitizing more than 2,600 images from the collection of Mari-Luci Jaramillo, a national advocate for civil rights and the United States' first Latina ambassador to Honduras.

The center made the announcement Thursday, saying it received funding for the project from the state of New Mexico and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Officials say the Jaramillo collection provides an unparalleled look at life dedicated to and distinguished by service to community.

Once the project is complete next summer, the images will be accessible for research and study through the New Mexico Digital Collections portal.

Jaramillo was a leader of education reform in New Mexico. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and was nominated for the post in Honduras by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

New Mexico City, Airline Work To Keep Flights Going Associated Press

Great Lakes Airlines is preparing to end flights to and from one northwestern New Mexico community due to a lack of pilots.

Still, the airline and the city of Farmington have been discussing ways to keep commercial flights at the Four Corners Regional Airport.

The Daily Times of Farmington reports the city has hired a consulting firm to help attract new airlines and to study what types of planes can operate on the airport's short runways.

The city has also applied for a grant that could help pay for marketing and subsidizing the startup costs for a commercial air service.

Airport manager Mike Lewis says aside from railroad or interstate access, an airport is key for a community's economic success.

Great Lakes is planning to transfer its resources in Farmington to California where there are more pilots available.

The Latest: Report: Juvenile Drug Courts Less Successful Associated Press

Legislative analysts say the costs of drug courts in New Mexico that focus on juveniles with drug abuse or addiction issues are outweighing the benefits.

They briefed members of the Legislative Finance Committee on a report that details the costs of using such programs as an alternative to incarceration for defendants.

Unlike similar programs for adults, the report indicates recidivism rates of juveniles who have participated in drug courts are increasing, while graduation rates are on the decline.

The analysts also acknowledged Thursday that more data should be collected to better assess outcomes for both adult and juvenile offenders.

Court officials told lawmakers that drug courts are at the forefront of criminal justice reform and that they are working with a national group to certify the state's drug courts based on best practices and consistent standards.

New Mexico Delegation Seeks More Funding For Opioid Fight Associated Press

Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say they're disappointed no new funding comes with President Donald Trump's declaration of the opioid crisis as a nationwide public health emergency.

Thursday's declaration allows the government to redirect resources and part of that includes expanded access to medical services in rural areas.

Sen. Tom Udall said if the Trump administration is serious about saving lives, it needs to actively seek major new funding through congressional budget negotiations before the end of the year.

Attorney General Hector Balderas says the federal government also needs to do more to target the pipeline of drugs that has flooded New Mexico and other states.

In September, Balderas sued some of the nation's largest opioid manufacturers and wholesale distributors, accusing them of downplaying addiction risks and failing to monitor suspect prescriptions.