Duran Case Fuels State's Corrupt Reputation, Navajo Nation Seeks FEMA Help On Spill

Sep 2, 2015

Charges Against Official Fuel NM's Reputation For CorruptionAssociated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

Dianna Duran won two terms as secretary of state on the promise she would clean up the office after her predecessors were accused of wrongdoing.

Duran now faces a similar fate after she was accused of funneling campaign contributions to her personal bank accounts all while withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars at casinos around New Mexico.

Duran's attorney has vowed to fight the allegations in court, but the case has revived New Mexico's reputation as a place where elected officials and other authority figures are often swept up by claims of fraud and corruption.

The executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that has been pushing for more transparency within the state's campaign finance reporting system, says the latest allegations will only lead to more frustration among voters.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Duran could be the first official to face losing her pension under a law passed in 2012 and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez. It allows judges to fine public officials convicted of felony corruption charges.

New Mexico Collects More Than $150K In Unpaid Child Support The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says New Mexico's annual bench warrant sweep has collected more than $150,000 in unpaid child support this year.

The governor's office says this year's bench warrant round up led to 110 arrests with a total of almost $77,000 collected so far.

The bench warrant amnesty period led to the collection of about $73,500 from 183 non-custodial parents.

The total amount of child support collected from the round up so far — combined with collections from the amnesty period — is more than $150,000.

The New Mexico Human Services Department's Child Support Enforcement Division, New Mexico State Police and local law enforcement partners across the state acted on more than 550 child support warrants during this year's roundup.

Auditor: New Mexico Had $100M Special Education ShortfallThe Associated Press

The New Mexico State Auditor's office says a new audit shows the state saw a shortfall of more than $100 million in special education funding.

The office said Wednesday an independent account firm found the shortfall in special education funding from July 2009 to June 2012. Officials say the numbers were based on New Mexico Public Education Department's calculations and placed federal funding at risk.

Auditor Tim Keller says the shortfall is another piece of system-wide challenges that plague the state's educational system.

The state's Public Education Department is currently in a legal dispute with the U.S. Department of Education over to how to calculate New Mexico's special education funding.

Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre says the special education funding problems began under former Gov. Bill Richardson.

Mine Spill Prompts Changes In Warning SystemThe Associated Press

A wastewater spill from a Colorado mine has prompted state officials to expand the list of downstream users they warn after such accidents.

Colorado officials notified only agencies inside their state after 3 million gallons of water tainted with heavy metals gushed out of the Gold King mine Aug. 5, eventually reaching rivers in New Mexico and Utah.

Colorado health department spokesman Mark Salley says the agency is changing its guidelines and will warn downstream states in the future. He says Colorado officials didn't know the magnitude of the spill when they issued their warnings.

New Mexico officials are unhappy because they say the federal Environmental Protection Agency never alerted them, even though an EPA-supervised crew inadvertently triggered the spill.

EPA officials didn't immediately respond to phone calls Wednesday.

Imprisoned Former Sheriff Gets Temporary Reprieve From FinesThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

Prosecutors are holding off on taking $70,000 out of an imprisoned sheriff's bank account to pay for court fines.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports prosecutors and former Rio Arriba County sheriff Tommy Rodella agreed to leave the funds in his account until his appeal is heard.

Rodella is serving 10 years in prison for abusing a driver in a bizarre, off-duty traffic stop that prosecutors described as a fit of road rage.

Attorney John Cline is representing Rodella and has said his client's constitutional rights were violated. Court documents say improper jury instructions and some evidence that was permitted created an unfair trial.

Cline and federal prosecutors are scheduled to give arguments in the appeal Sept. 29.

Fathers Pushing For School Board RecallAlbuquerque Journal

Following the departure of the Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent, two fathers are pushing for a recall of nearly the entire school board.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Jacob Gil filled out paperwork with the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Bureau of Elections Office. He and Van Overton are upset that Superintendent Luis Valentino is getting a payout of about $100,000 and a letter of recommendation.

Valentino resigned Monday after only two months on the job following his hiring of the administrator facing child sex abuse charges. Valentino also faced resistance for wanting to get rid of a politically-connected staffer.

The two fathers excluded member Steven Michael Quezada from the recall effort. Quezada has been very critical of Valentino. To start a recall process the two would need to get signatures from one third of the registered voters who voted in the last school board election. But first the paperwork must go to District Court, which has 10 days to hold a hearing

Parents Of Man Who Died At Party In Grants Sue City Police Associated Press

The parents of a man who was fatally beaten at a 2012 house party in Grants have filed a lawsuit against the city's police department.

Nelson and Lisa Rains say their 25-year-old son was literally kicked to death on Jan. 15, 2012 and someone used an "unaccounted-for, police issued" stun gun on him.

John Rains was taken to a Cibola hospital, where he died shortly after arrival.

A man accused of second-degree murder in the case was acquitted in August 2014.

Rains' parents hired an Albuquerque law firm to file a lawsuit against the Grants Police Department, its current and former chiefs and two officers accused of misconduct.

The suit seeks punitive damages to be determined by a jury.

Grants police didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday night.

Navajo President Requests Help From FEMA After Mine Spill – Associated Press

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help in the tribe's recovery from a mine spill.

The Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado, sent toxic sludge into waterways including the San Juan River that flows through the reservation.

Begaye issued an emergency declaration and restricted tribal members from using the water for drinking, agriculture and livestock.

In a letter Tuesday, Begaye asks FEMA to appoint a recovery coordinator to the tribe, saying the agency is best positioned to assess the short- and long-term impacts, determine priorities and support recovery.

The tribe has been critical of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's response to the spill.

A spokesman for FEMA didn't immediately return a message Tuesday from The Associated Press.

New Mexico Court Schedules Arguments On Assisted Suicide – Associated Press

New Mexico's highest court is poised to consider the legality of assisted suicide.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Oct. 26 in a so-called "aid-in-dying" case recently decided by the state Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals on Aug. 11 struck down a Bernalillo County District Court judge's ruling that essentially allowed assisted suicide in the state.

In a split decision, the Court of Appeals concluded "that aid in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution."

The District Court judge had previously ruled that a 1963 state law making assisted suicide a fourth-degree felony in the state was invalid as applied to physicians who administer a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient.

Health Department Says 17 In Running For Medical Marijuana Producer LicensesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health says a committee has whittled down from 86 to 17 the number of applicants seeking licenses to produce medical marijuana.

Health Secretary Retta Ward will review the finalists and decide how many licenses will be granted. She's expected to make a decision in the next 30 days.

Officials considered a number of factors in narrowing the list of potential producers, including plans for production, security, sales and distribution, quality assurance and their agricultural experience.

The department did not release the names of the applicants but said it's working on a rule change that would allow for the names of licensed producers and their employees to be made public.

The department expected to publish the proposed rule and hold hearings on the matter this fall.

DOE Names Field Office Manager At Nuclear RepositoryAssociated Press

The U.S. Department of Energy has appointed a new director to the field office that oversees the federal government's troubled nuclear waste repository.

Todd Shrader is replacing Dana Bryson, who served as acting director for two months before announcing his retirement.

DOE officials say Shrader will be up to the challenge at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which has been closed since a February 2014 radiation leak.

They say Shrader has tackled some of the department's toughest issues and is the right person to lead the team in Carlsbad as work continues toward reopening the underground repository.

Shrader previously served as head of the office responsible for supporting river protection work at the department's Hanford site. He also worked on the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada.

ENMU To Be On Probation, Vacate Wins Over NCAA ViolationsAssociated Press

Eastern New Mexico University will be on probation for four years and forfeit five seasons' worth of victories by nearly all of its sports programs because of eligibility violations.

The NCAA Division II Committee on Infractions Report was released Tuesday.

The NCAA enforcement staff found that ENMU used 132 athletes in 12 different programs who were ineligible to practice or play during the 2008-09 through 2012-13 seasons.

ENMU will forfeit victories from 2008-13 in football, baseball, volleyball and men's and women's soccer.

That includes the men's Lone Star Conference soccer championship in 2011.

The university also will forfeit wins in softball and men's and women's basketball from 2008-12 and vacate individual points and team awards in men's and women's cross country and track in various seasons.