Presbyterian Rejects Tax Fraud Allegations, NM Professors Get Grant For Hurricane Study

Jul 12, 2017

Health Provider Rejects Tax Fraud AllegationsAssociated Press

One of the state's largest health insurance providers is rejecting allegations that it underpaid premium taxes and surcharges by falsifying deductions and credits through the Medicaid program.

Officials with the Presbyterian health system responded Tuesday after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit targeting the system's health plan and insurance arm.

Presbyterian spokeswoman Melanie Mozes says the company is confident it has acted in good faith and with the intent to comply with its legal obligations and responsibilities.

Mozes says the premium taxes paid by Presbyterian Health Plan have been audited multiple times by independent firms and state agencies. In 2016, she says Presbyterian Health Plan paid more than $52.6 million in premium taxes to the state.

She says the lawsuit will not distract Presbyterian from its mission of improving the health of patients.

New Mexico Professors Using $2.8M Grant To Study HurricanesThe Associated Press

Two New Mexico professors will be studying how hurricanes are formed under a $2.8 million grant.

A New Mexico Tech news release says that the physics researchers have used the funds from the National Science Foundation to create the Climate and Water Center to oversee their atmospheric field project.

With an aircraft from the foundation, Dr. Zeljka Fuchs and David Raymond plan to get close to hurricane breeding grounds in the tropical East Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The hope is to improve weather predictions around the world.

Vice President of Research Dr. Van Romero says the center will also study New Mexico weather and advise farmers on when to plant, when to water and when to harvest to maximize their productivity.

Advocates Say Pay Equity Can Fight PovertyThe Associated Press

Advocates are urging Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico lawmakers to consider using pay equity among workers as a tool to address poverty, education challenges and other systemic problems that the state has battled for decades.

Leaders with the Southwest Women's Law Center, Young Women United, Strong Families New Mexico and the New Mexico Pay Equity Initiative gathered Wednesday to discuss wage gaps and the effects on families.

They pointed to New Mexico's persistently high poverty rates. They also said many households in the state are headed by women.

Drug Overdose Deaths Increase Slightly In New MexicoThe Associated Press

The number of drug overdose deaths increased to 497 in 2016 from 493 the previous year in New Mexico, a state that has led the western United States in drug fatalities as it wrestles with opioid and heroin addiction.

The overdose death rate remained unchanged during 2016 at 24.8 deaths per 1,000 residents, considering slight statewide population growth, the state Department of Health announced Wednesday. The rate of unintentional fatal drug overdoses — those not linked to suicides — showed a slight increase.

Nearly three in four overdose deaths statewide involved opioids of some kind, including prescription pain medication and heroin.

State Epidemiologist Michael Landen said the plateau in the fatal overdose rate is unsatisfactory but runs counter to a worsening national trend.

Overdose deaths in New Mexico have hovered well above the national average, even as the state has implemented pioneering policies to rein in fatalities.

Univ. Of New Mexico: $432K In Sky Box Revenue UncollectedAssociated 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.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Attorney General Hector Balderas has requested records on the payments that UNM did not collect for the suites.

GOP Immigration Attorney To Run For CongressAssociated Press

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

The Albuquerque Journal reports Michael Hendricks is launching a campaign this week for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District.

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.

Former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones recently filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to run for the seat as a Republican. The GOP has not won the seat since 2008.

Hendricks says he wants to bring back morality to Congress and stem the tide of overspending in Washington.

Seven Democrats also are running.

Local Youth Media Org Rallies For Net Neutrality - KUNM News Staff

Tech companies and open internet advocates coordinated national efforts to raise awareness today about new FCC rules that would eliminate net neutrality.

You may have seen notices on some of your favorite websites – like Amazon, Netflix and OKCupid – the spinning wheel of a page load delayed and a form letter people can send to the FCC and Congress.

Here in New Mexico, the youth media organization Generation Justice will rally at 6 today outside the Albuquerque offices of New Mexico congressional delegates, calling for them to send letters in support of net neutrality as well. 

Police: Girl May Have Been Electrocuted By Phone In BathtubAssociated Press

Police in New Mexico are investigating whether a Texas teenager was electrocuted when she grabbed her charging cellphone while bathing.

Detective Sgt. David Miranda of the Lovington Police Department said Tuesday that the 14-year-old Lubbock girl died Sunday while visiting her father.

He says no cause of death has been established, but that initial evidence suggests electrocution. Miranda says a cellphone, a charging cord and an extension cord were found by the bathtub.

Miranda says investigators are awaiting results of an autopsy.

The girl's mother and grandmother say they believe the girl was electrocuted when she grabbed her cellphone while its charging cable was plugged into a live extension cord.

Priest Who Abused Child Still Working With KidsAssociated Press

The Claretians Roman Catholic order has settled a lawsuit from a man sexually abused as a 6-year-old by a teenager who later became a prominent priest in Chicago.

The settlement obtained by The Associated Press also says the longtime cleric, 60-year-old Bruce Wellems, recently left the priesthood.

But he still works as executive director of a non-profit that offers youth mentoring and other programs for children.

The head office of the Peace and Education Coalition is also located in the same Chicago church where Wellems served as priest for two decades.

The 52-year-old victim, Eric Johnson, said the abuse began in 1973 when he was 6 and just weeks before Wellems turned 15 when they lived in the same neighborhood in Albuquerque. Johnson says he was abused more than a dozen times over a year. Wellems would sometimes ask for sex acts if he defeated Johnson in basketball-shooting contests, he said.

The settlement includes a $25,000 payment to Johnson. That's a modest sum by the standards of such suits. Johnson says one of his aims in suing was to help ensure Wellems left the priesthood.

Political Spending Rules Criticized In New MexicoAssociated Press

A conservative-backed organization called Concerned Veterans for America is pushing back against proposed disclosure rules in New Mexico for political spending by groups that operate independently of candidates and affiliated committees.

The Virginia-based group issued a public letter Tuesday criticizing rules that would make information available about unlimited independent political donations from corporations, unions and other groups that don't operate primarily for political purposes.

Concerned Veterans for America Policy Director Dan Caldwell says the requirements would stifle anonymous free speech by forcing it and similar groups to reveal the names of donors.

The draft rules proposed by Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver follow in the footsteps of legislation vetoed in April by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Public hearings on the proposed rules are scheduled this week and next.

Cholera Found In New Mexico Pond Where Boy Was RescuedEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

First responders who helped pull a boy from a pond in New Mexico have been told to seek medical treatment after cholera bacteria were found in the water.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports Clovis City Manager Tom Phelps said on Monday that the first responders have been advised to take a doctor recommended course of antibiotics.

Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe with "diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps" and can lead to death if untreated.

Phelps said the water poses no danger "as long as residents don't go swimming in the pond."

The boy who was pulled from the pond on July 4 remained in critical condition on Monday.

Lab Makes Changes In Wake Of Botched Nuclear Shipments - By Susan Montoya Bryan, 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.

New Mexico Woman's 99 Disability Lawsuits Thrown OutAssociated 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.

Folk Art Market Endures Amid Shifting Us Immigration Policy - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Organizers of the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe say shifting U.S. policies on security and immigration are not hampering participation by artists from 53 countries, from Cuba to Jordan.

In its 14th year, the annual bazaar is expanding its mission to highlight innovation and high-fashion within folk-art traditions, from flower-petal dyed scarves from India to Amazonian basketry with mesmerizing patterns and symmetry.

A crowd of 20,000 is expected at the three-day sale that starts Friday. They will shop among wares from nearly 200 artists and artisans, many from remote areas in developing countries.

Access to the U.S. for artists is on a par with previous years, despite a partial reinstatement of President Donald Trump's executive order banning citizens of six countries from coming into the U.S.

Bloomfield Plans To Drilling To Find Second Source For WaterFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Bloomfield plans to drill four test drills as it seeks a secondary water source for the northwestern New Mexico city.

Public Works Director Jason Thomas says the drilling is intended to determine whether there's an aquifer beneath the San Juan River that could provide quality drinking water.

The Farmington Daily Times reports the project is funded by capital outlay money the city received from the state in 2016.

Bloomfield currently relies on water from a local irrigation district's ditch, but Mayor Scott Eckstein says city officials grew concerned about relying on one source when there was a breach in the ditch last year.

Thomas says the city hopes to find a clean gravel layer that extends under the river and has a high flow rate.

Silver Police Investigating Possible Arson Of Its ImpoundSilver City Sun-News, Associated Press

Silver police are investigating a possible arson of one of the department's storage units.

The Silver City Sun-News reports authorities were called to an early fire on Sunday at a department impound.

Officer Steven Delgado wrote that he saw flames coming out of the third and fourth garage bays when he arrived at the scene.

Police found three cuts in the fence around the storage facility.

Silver City Police Chief Ed Reynolds says the building appears to be a total loss along with one vehicle being stored for evidence.

No arrests have been made.