New Mexico AG Suing Health Provider, Los Alamos Lab Makes Changes

Jul 11, 2017

New Mexico AG Targets Major Health Care Provider Over Taxes – The Associated Press

New Mexico's top prosecutor is suing one of the state's largest health insurance providers over allegations that it falsified Medicaid deductions and credits and as a result evaded tens of millions of dollars in premium taxes and surcharges.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Presbyterian Health Plan, Inc.; Presbyterian Network, Inc.; and Presbyterian Insurance Co., Inc.

Officials with the health care system did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Presbyterian has hospitals and clinics around the state and employs nearly 11,000 people.

Balderas says Presbyterian deliberately and systematically underpaid required premium taxes between 2001 and 2015.

The attorney general is working with state auditors on the case. They say it's part of an ongoing civil and criminal review of Presbyterian and other health care companies.

The lawsuit stems from a previous complaint filed by whistleblowers.

Lab Makes Changes In Wake Of Botched Nuclear ShipmentsThe Associated Press

Los Alamos National Laboratory is making changes in the wake of last month's improper shipment of radioactive material to two other research facilities in the U.S.

The lab says several people were disciplined for their roles in the mix-up. That included firings and other personnel actions, but officials declined to provide more details.

The lab also has transferred responsibility for certain nuclear shipments to another division and has created more controls for making shipping labels.

In June, federal regulators launched an investigation after small amounts of nuclear materials were shipped to California and South Carolina aboard a commercial cargo plane. The materials were packaged for ground transport, not air transport.

Lab officials say the mistake was unacceptable and that they're taking actions to address the incident and past safety lapses.

UNM: $432K In Sky Box Revenue UncollectedThe Associated Press

University of New Mexico officials say $432,000 in skybox suite revenue from the university's basketball arena has gone uncollected.

UNM officials made the disclosure during a news conference Monday after the university announced there were "inconsistencies" in contracts for arena suites and were instituting new controls and oversight of athletics department finances.

Officials say they've started to collect the money owed to the department for box usage from 2010 to 2017 but that they so far don't know why it wasn't collected in the first place.

According to officials, the problem came to light as a result of journalists' public records requests and two ongoing state inquiries into the department's overall spending and a 2015 golf trip to Scotland.

New Mexico Woman's 99 Disability Lawsuits Thrown OutThe Associated Press

A federal judge has told a woman who sued 99 Albuquerque businesses that her lawsuits are being thrown out and she must pay $40,000 for the court's time.

The judge on Monday also accused Alyssa Carton's lawyer Sharon Pomeranz of misleading the court during sworn testimony and referred to the controversial group claiming to be advocates for people with disabilities as a carnival shell game.

Carton told KOAT-TV she was recruited online and paid to file the lawsuits against businesses.

The court found every lawsuit to be malicious.

The court has invited the 99 businesses to request sanctions against Pomeranz.

GOP Immigration Lawyer To Run For Congress In New MexicoThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

A Republican immigration lawyer is jumping into the race for an open congressional seat in central New Mexico.

Michael Hendricks is launching a campaign this week for the GOP nomination in the 1st Congressional District, the Albuquerque Journal reports.  He is the second Republican candidate to enter a race for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for New Mexico governor.

The GOP has not won the seat since 2008.

He speaks Spanish and serves as the consulting attorney for the Mexican Consulate in New Mexico.

New Mexico University To Lay Off Staff, Freeze Vacant PostsLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University's finalized budget will freeze over 90 vacant faculty and staff positions and lay off two personnel.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports university officials said Friday that the moves would close an $8 million gap in the institution's budget. Administrators say the personnel cuts are much smaller than originally anticipated in initial planning scenarios.

Chancellor Garrey Carruthers says the other positions will remain frozen until officials decide on a date to fill them.

The university's permanent budget was reduced by 5 percent in 2016 after special session to address the state's budget crisis and received further cuts after the 2017 regular and special legislative sessions.

The institution has also lost funding due to declining enrollment numbers.

New Mexico Rep. Youngblood Opts Not To Run For CongressAssociated Press

A rising Latina Republican state lawmaker says she is not jumping into the crowded race for an open congressional seat in central New Mexico.

State Rep. Monica Youngblood told The Associated Press that she didn't feel it was a "viable option" for her to seek the GOP nomination for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. Her announcement comes as some Republicans have urged her to run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for New Mexico governor.

Seven Democrats are seeking their party's nomination for the seat.

No Republican has formally announced a bid for the seat, which the party has not won since 2008.

Western Wildfires Feed On Grass Brought On By Winter Rain - By Don Thompson And Andrew Dalton, Associated Press

Wildfires driving people from their homes in California and throughout the West have had help from an unlikely source: the rain.

Major winter downpours that pulled the state out of years of drought also brought a layer of grass that early-summer fires are eating up.

Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said Monday it's the richest grass crop his firefighters have seen in years, and it's making fires that are faster and hotter, and travel more easily between trees.

Despite a hot and dry weekend, crews were making progress against dozens of fires across California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Blowing Dust Closes I-10 At New Mexico-Arizona BorderAssociated Press

A section of Interstate 10 near the New Mexico-Arizona border was closed for nearly two hours due to high winds and blowing dust.

New Mexico Department of Transportation officials say the westbound lanes of the freeway were re-opened around 6 p.m. Monday but only the passing lane of eastbound I-10 is open at this time.

Traffic was diverted onto U.S. 70 after visibility became low in the Lordsburg area around 4 p.m.

In recent months and years, the stretch of highway near rural Lordsburg has seen deadly crashes and closures due to similar conditions stemming from the desert landscape and a dry lakebed.

Sheriff: Smart Device Makes Domestic Violence CallAssociated Press

New Mexico authorities say they were alerted to a potentially deadly domestic violence situation thanks to voice-activated smart technology.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office detailed the case Monday, saying a woman had been threatened and hit in the face with a handgun.

Deputies believe a voice-activated smart device triggered a 911 call after the suspect asked the woman if she had called the sheriff.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Felicia Romero said the woman can be heard saying in the 911 recording: "Alexa, call 911." But Romero acknowledged that she's not sure what device might have been used.

Amazon recently began offering a calling and messaging service but only between Echo and Alexa app users. Google announced in May its own hands-free calling feature, but it's not available yet.

New Mexico AG Urges Feds To Protect National MonumentsAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says any effort to rescind the designation of the state's two newest national monuments would be short-sighted and reckless.

Balderas on Monday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, outlining his support for Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

The two are among 27 monuments where a review ordered by President Donald Trump might remove protections previously considered irreversible.

Balderas argues that in a state with high poverty and joblessness, the monuments help make up one bright spot in the economy. He says outdoor recreation is a multibillion-dollar industry for New Mexico.

In southern New Mexico, the mayors of Las Cruces, Mesilla and Anthony gathered with other supporters Monday to speak in favor of the monuments.

Univ. Of New Mexico: New Oversight For Athletic DepartmentAssociated Press

The University of New Mexico says it is instituting new controls and oversight of athletics department finances and that it has found "inconsistencies" in contracts for basketball arena suites.

Interim President Chaouki Abdallah says a top university administrator will head efforts to evaluate and improve the department's financial management while working with the recently appointed acting athletic director.

Meanwhile, state auditors and the state attorney general's office continue separate inquiries into the department's overall spending and a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included private donors.

Abdallah says the university is reviewing records of suites for the Lobo men's and women's basketball seasons and that unspecified inconsistences were found in contracts, invoices and payments for some suites.

The Albuquerque Journal reported UNM officials did not collect about $432,000 in payments for suites used in the 2010-11 basketball season.

Janice Ruggiero was appointed acting athletic director last month following Paul Krebs' departure.

Largest US Latino Group Changing Name To Be More Inclusive – Associated Press

The nation's largest Latino civil rights group is changing its name to make it less polarizing and more inclusive.

National Council of La Raza, or NCLR, will announce Monday that will be known as UnidosUS.

President Janet Murguia said the name change was three years in the making and was in response to members of the organization who felt the term "raza" was outdated and didn't resonate with them.

The term means "the people" and was coined to describe the various races Mexican people come from. Chicano civil rights activists made the term popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

Murguia pronounces the "US" in UnidosUS like the abbreviation for United States but says it's purposely missing the punctuation so that it can be interpreted as either "us" or "U.S."

Improvements Underway For New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Event Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Event organizers are starting several major improvement projects to prepare for this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The Albuquerque Journal reports construction begins Monday on a bridge over the North Diversion Channel that will lead to a new set of RV sites to the west of Balloon Fiesta Park.

Balloon Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity says large radio transmission towers west of the park have been removed in order to construct RV sites and parking for staff and volunteers.

Girders for the new bridge over the North Diversion Channel are set to be installed Monday, and work on the bridge will extend through mid-August.

Garrity says all of the projects will be completed by the start of the large hot air ballooning event, which is scheduled to run Oct. 7-15.

Police See Marijuana Plants In Window, Arrest New Mexico ManLas Vegas Optic, Associated Press

A northern New Mexico man is facing charges after police say officers passed in his house and saw marijuana plants in his front window.

The Las Vegas Optic reports Lawrence Arellanes was arrested last week following the visual clues spotted by two Las Vegas police officers.

Arellanes told the officers he didn't have a medical marijuana card and promised to turn over the plants to be destroyed. But inside the home, officers smelled marijuana and found a glass smoking device.

Authorities later seized 15 pounds of marijuana, a shotgun, a revolver, two scales, and other items.

Arellanes was charged with distribution of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

It was not known if he had an attorney.

Crews Mopping Up Fire In Sandia Crest Area Near AlbuquerqueAssociated Press

Firefighters are mopping up a wildfire that sent a tall plume of smoke from mountains overlooking Albuquerque late last week.

The U.S. Forest Service says the fire in the Sandia Crest area will continue to be monitored and patrolled until it's declared to be 100 percent contained or controlled.

Officials say weather conditions helped firefighters over the weekend and that crews have been thinning vegetation around communications towers on the mountain to enhance future protection of that infrastructure.

Meanwhile crews battled the Collette Fire in Edgewood, sparked by lightning on Monday. KRQE-TV reported it burned between eight and 16 acres around Barton Road and Juan Thomas. No buildings or homes are threatened and officials said the fire activity was decreasing.