Food Program Gets Outside Oversight, State Takes Over Española Schools Finances

Nov 18, 2016

Outside Supervisor Appointed To Oversee New Mexico Food AidAssociated Press

A federal judge has appointed a "special master" to help ensure federally funded benefits are administered properly by the New Mexico Human Services Department.

A U.S. District Court judge appointed Thursday a veteran of the Texas Department of Human Services named Lawrence Parker who has overseen that state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Human Services Department proposed the oversight arrangement as an alternative to a more far-reaching request by advocates for aid recipients that a federal receiver implement administrative changes.

New outside oversight of the agency responds in part to court testimony by state caseworkers that expedited food aid applications were falsified to meet federal deadlines — sometimes under pressure from management — likely delaying the delivery of benefits as a result.

Attendance Dips, Revenues Rise At New Mexico State MuseumsAssociated Press

A decision to raise ticket prices and eliminate some free-entrance days at New Mexico's world renowned state museums and historic sites has provided a boost in revenue to the state's cash strapped culture agency since the start of July.

The changes also have been accompanied by a drop in ticketed attendance at a network of eight state museums and eight cultural sites that are an engine of the state tourism economy, where more than a million people flock each year learn about Billy the Kid and admire international folk art, oil paintings and space rockets.

Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said the agency is on track to raise an additional $450,000 from ticket sales and special events this fiscal year — not enough to offset state spending cuts.

Insurance Regulator Calls Audit Into Back Taxes InaccurateSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico's superintendent of insurance is saying an audit into his office's failure to collect some $190 million in back taxes from insurers was based on incorrect data.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in a letter Tuesday to state Attorney General Hector Balderas, Superintendent of Insurance John Franchini asked Balderas to review whether the accounting firm that performed the audit did all the work it was required to do under its contract.

Franchini argues that Clifton, Larson & Allen, the accounting firm, used incorrect data in its analysis and that the files the firm reviewed were not verified as complete or accurate.

State Auditor Tim Keller says Franchini's request is misguided and that he instead should be focused on recovering the overdue funds.

New Mexico Delegation Members: F-16s To Move To Holloman AFBAssociated Press

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say the U.S. Air Force has made an interim decision to move two F-16 training squadrons to Holloman Air Force Base from Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The Air Force plans to move F-16s from the Utah base to make room for new F-35s.

The interim decision to move the aircraft to Holloman was announced Thursday by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Steve Pearce. They had urged the Air Force to expand Holloman's mission to include the F1-6 units.

The delegation members say a final decision will be made next spring.

California Pair Charged With Bringing Forced Laborers To USAssociated Press

Federal prosecutors say a couple has been charged with bringing people to the United States from India and forcing them to do domestic work for 18 hours a day without pay in their houses in California and New Mexico.

The U.S. attorney's office said that 38-year-old Sharmistha Barai of Stockton and her 43-year-old husband Satish Kartan could get up to 20 years apiece in prison.

Their five-count indictment says that that from 2014 until earlier this year, the couple targeted workers from India, putting ads promising wages on the internet and in newspapers there. It says once they arrived, Barai and Kartan put them to work at their homes in Stockton, California, Albuquerque, New Mexico and elsewhere in the U.S.

Authorities say they used physical restraint and threats to force their victims to work 18 hours a day with no pay and little food.

PED Takes Over Española Public Schools’ FinancesSanta Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Public Education Department has taken over control of finances at Española Public Schools amid charges of budget and hiring irregularities.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports PED may also remove Superintendent Eric Martinez. Education Secretary Hannah Skandera told school board members in a letter the district has submitted false financial data and awarded contracts in violation of state law.

She singled out Martinez for creating at atmosphere of intimidation in the schools. The superintendent rehired a controversial basketball coach after his predecessor fired him after an investigation into accusations he was abusive to players.

Martinez did not return calls from the paper seeking comment. PED officials said he has 30 days to submit a plan to remedy the problems in the district. PED will oversee the district’s finances and contracts for at least a year.

New Mexico Supreme Court Upholds Cold-Case Murder ConvictionAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a man in the 1991 death of an Albuquerque woman.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Thursday that the court affirmed last year's conviction of Anthony John Morris.

Albuquerque police investigators renewed efforts in 2011 to solve the cold case of 23-year-old Mary Dupris.

Although she appeared to have been run over by a car, medical examiners determined Dupris also was shot in the head.

Blood was found under Dupris' fingernails and on her shirt. Police matched DNA evidence from the crime scene to Morris and brought charges against him in September 2014.

Morris was convicted in March 2015 and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed to the state Supreme Court, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence.

New Mexico Officials Defend Rollout Of New Driver's Licenses Associated Press

New Mexico state officials who began issuing new driver's licenses this week that meet increased federal security standards are defending their efforts from criticism by civil rights groups.

Advocacy groups for immigrants and the ACLU have described a chaotic rollout for the state's two new driving IDs and say the Motor Vehicle Division has asked some for documents and fingerprints that are not required. The groups set up an telephone hotline Wednesday to provide information on state requirements.

The Motor Vehicle Division says it has been working hard to ensure a smooth and efficient rollout, issuing nearly 2,300 IDs in the two days.

The state is issuing high-security driver's licenses as well as driving authorization cards that are available to all residents, including immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Remaining Charges Against Albuquerque Jail Guard DroppedAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Prosecutors have dropped remaining charges against a former Albuquerque jail guard who was accused of raping inmates.

Earlier this month jurors found Torry Chambers not guilty of three counts of criminal sexual penetration but they could not come to a unanimous decision on three additional charges of criminal sexual penetration. The Albuquerque Journal reports that those remaining charges were dismissed Monday.

Chambers is still is a sergeant at the Metropolitan Detention Center, but wasn't allowed to have contact with inmates while his case was pending

Chambers was accused of five counts of criminal sexual penetration against three women inmates between 2008 and 2010.

He also faced one charge that he facilitated the rape of a female inmate by a male inmate.

Arizona Ranchers Can Be Compensated For Cattle Lose To WolfAssociated Press

The Arizona Livestock Loss Board has approved an interim policy allowing ranchers to receive compensation for cattle taken by Mexican wolves.

Conservation efforts are helping to re-establish the Mexican wolf population within its historical range in Arizona and New Mexico, but the program has resulted in the loss of some commercial cattle.

The board's vote allows ranchers to be compensated for a wolf depredation incident after it's investigated and confirmed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services field representative.

Under the interim policy, a commercial rancher can apply for reimbursement for damages up to $2,500.

The board will consider claims for incidents that occurred after Sept. 1, 2015 until funds are exhausted.

Claims approved after funds have been exhausted will be paid when and if additional funding becomes available.

Tesoro To Acquire Western Refining In $6.4B DealAssociated Press

Tesoro Corp. plans to acquire Western Refining Inc. in a $6.4 billion deal involving refineries, gas stations and convenience stores.

The agreement was announced Thursday by San Antonio-based Tesoro and Western Refining, which has its headquarters in El Paso.

Tesoro operates seven refineries in the western U.S. and more than 2,400 retail service stations.

Western Refining operates refineries in El Paso, New Mexico and Minnesota, plus service stations and convenience stores in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal. The CEO and chairman of Tesoro, Greg Goff, will lead the combined company.

Transmission Project Developers To Survey State Trust LandAssociated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has granted permission for developers of a planned $2 billion transmission line between Arizona and New Mexico to survey state trust land.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the right-of-entry approval allows the developers of the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project to survey 89 miles of state trust land, the next step toward the power line.

Once the surveys are complete, SunZia can request a rights-of-way agreement from the State Land Office that would allow them to build the transmission line.

The SunZia project aims to tap into wind resources in New Mexico as well as solar and geothermal potential in New Mexico and Arizona. The line will export electricity to markets in the West.