New Fraud Task Force, Opioid Overdose Reversals Up...

Jul 16, 2015

New Mexico AG Creates Fraud Task Force The Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he has created a special task force that will target cheats and recover public funds that are lost due to fraud.

Balderas announced the Fraud Recovery Strike Force on Wednesday.

He says it will be charged with investigating false claims and deceptive practices, and will partner with whistle-blowers to expose abuse and corruption.

Some of these efforts are already under way in the form of ongoing litigation against companies accused of misusing public funds and offering sub-par care to vulnerable New Mexicans.

Other active cases include litigation against credit card companies for restraint of trade and private colleges for deceptive marketing, unfair practices and misrepresentation.

Lawmakers Try To Tackle Mental Health, Drug Treatment The Las Cruces Sun-News, The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are looking at better ways to treat people suffering from both mental illnesses and drug addictions.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports a panel of judges and law enforcement officers who deal with the mentally ill met with the legislature's Health and Human Services Committee at New Mexico State University to discuss the limited options for people who have dual diagnoses and are referred by the court for treatment.

One judge told the panel there are few treatment facilities that handle both illnesses, though they typically pair together.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat, says there aren’t enough beds to treat people.

Las Cruces Police Sgt. Robert McCord says beds at state hospitals were reduced from about 1,300 25 years ago to fewer than 100 currently.

New Mexico Reports Increase In Reversals Of Opioid Overdoses The Associated Press

New Mexico health officials report a significant increase in the number of reversals of overdoses from powerful painkillers.

The Department of Health announced Wednesday that more than 900 opioid overdose reversals were reported in 2014 due to the use of the drug naloxone.

The department says that's nearly a 29 percent increase from 2013.

The department has been working with other agencies to increase access and availability of naloxone in New Mexico as part of a multi-pronged approach to reduce overdose deaths in New Mexico.

Lawmakers Updated On Spaceport America's Financial Outlook The Associated Press

The top official at Spaceport America says she's hopeful Virgin Galactic will launch commercial space flights from New Mexico beginning next summer.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson updated members of the Legislative Finance Committee during a meeting Wednesday in Alamogordo.

Anderson said there’ve been 23 vertical rocket launches to date and revenue has covered more than half of the facility's operating expenses for the last three fiscal years.

But because revenue is tied to leases and launch activity, legislative analysts say setbacks at Virgin Galactic will leave the spaceport scrambling for revenue this year.

Officials say the spaceport might need an additional $1.2 million appropriation to avoid a shortfall.

Anderson says there has been a 136 percent increase in ticket sales since a new visitor center opened last month.

O'Keeffe Museum Receives Gift Of Artist's Correspondence The Santa Fe New Mexican, The Associated Press

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center says it has received a gift of correspondence between the famed artist and portrait artist Frances O'Brien.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the gift includes letters, postcards, interviews and other materials from the 1940s to the 1970s.

O'Keeffe died in Santa Fe in 1986 while O'Brien died in 1990 in Tucson, Arizona.

The donors are Brian and Bina Garfield of Pasadena, California.

Brian Garfield is the son of O'Brien, who was a protege of O'Keeffe.

O'Brien was known for her portraits of composer Irving Berlin, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, historian William L. Shirer, Winston S. Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and Grandma Moses.

Many of the portraits made the cover of The Saturday Evening Post magazine.

Former NMSU Student Gets Probation In Online Threat Case The Associated Press

A former New Mexico State University student has been sentenced to five years of probation for hindering an investigation into an online threat to shoot up the school last year.

Prosecutors say 20-year-old Zachary Milton Hess of Las Cruces also was ordered Wednesday to pay nearly $78,000 in restitution to the university.

He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in March.

Hess was arrested in the case last Aug. 25.

Authorities say someone threatened to shoot up the NMSU campus within three days during an internet chat on May 27, 2014.

An FBI investigation linked the threat to Hess' home computer.

Prosecutors say Hess admitted that he knew about the online threat and assisted in hindering the investigation.

2 Former Cibola County Officials Face Criminal Charges The Gallup Independent, The Associated Press

Two former Cibola County officials face criminal charges accusing them of ethics violations and using their positions for personal gain.

The Gallup Independent reports that the charges against former County Manager Jimmy Scott Vinson and former Commissioner Antonio Gallegos resulted from a citizens petition that sought a grand jury.

Charges against Vinson include an embezzlement count accusing him of using a county credit card for personal expenses, while charges against Gallegos stem from the county's purchase of property.

Gallegos did not immediately return a request for comment but Vinson's attorney said his client was innocent.

Vinson defense attorney Jim Foy also said Vinson acted in the county's best interest and that he and Vinson look forward to trying the case in front of a jury.

Appeal Hearing Set For Former Sheriff In Civil Rights Case The Santa Fe New Mexican, The Associated Press

A federal appeals court in Denver is set to hear arguments in the case of former Rio Arriba County sheriff Tommy Rodella, who received a 10-year prison sentence for violating a motorist's civil rights while brandishing a handgun.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the appeal hearing has been scheduled for September 29.

Rodella's attorney plans to argue that Rodella's stop of Española motorist Michael Tafoya was lawful and that he didn't receive a fair trial.

The scheduling of the hearing comes as the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque fights to seize Rodella's assets to help pay nearly $150,000 that Rodella owes the government for his fine in the case.

After being found guilty, Rodella received a $200,000 fine and was ordered to pay $10,000 to the motorist.