NM Gets New Payment Plan For Rail Runner System, Lujan Grisham Says NM Shouldn't Be Heroin Capital

Jul 10, 2018

New Mexico Gets New Payment Plan For Rail Runner System- Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico has struck a deal to keep its commuter rail system on the right fiscal track.

The Albuquerque Journal reports officials say the state broke even last week on the refinancing of about $420 million in debt, smoothing out the annual payments New Mexico must make on construction of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.

Without the refinancing, the state Department of Transportation's annual payments could have climbed from about $30 million now to near $110 million in 2025 and 2026.

Now the payments are expected to top out at $40 million. The state, in turn, has added three years to the term of the debt, meaning it will be paid off in 2030 rather than 2027.

The Rail Runner connects Belen, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Cardiologist Gets Prison Term For Health Care Fraud- Associated Press

A Santa Fe cardiologist has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for health care fraud and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors say Roy Heilbron also was ordered Tuesday to pay nearly $624,000 in restitution to the victims of the health care fraud.

The 54-year-old Heilbron was sentenced to 24 months on the health care fraud charge and 27 months on an obstruction of justice charge.

He will serve the sentences consecutively.

A federal grand jury indicted Heilbron in June 2015.

He was accused of defrauding Medicare and other health care benefit programs between January 2010 and May 2011 by submitting false and fraudulent claims.

Heilbron pleaded guilty to the health care fraud charge in February 2017 and guilty to the obstruction of justice charge a year later.

New Mexico Lawmaker's DWI Trial Set For August- Associated Press

A New Mexico lawmaker charged with aggravated drunken driving will go to trial in August.

A state district on Tuesday set August 29th as the trial date for GOP State Rep. Monica Youngblood.

Youngblood was arrested in May on suspicion of aggravated DWI at an Albuquerque checkpoint where she complied with a field sobriety test but refused a blood-alcohol test.

Video shows an officer telling her he can smell alcohol. The three-term Republican lawmaker responds saying she hadn't consumed any since the day before.

She also mentions she is a state lawmaker who advocates for police.

Youngblood has pleaded not guilty.

Youngblood said in a statement that she regretted the situation, particularly her decision not to take the blood-alcohol test.

Prosecutor Says Officer's Arrest May Prompt Dismissal Of Cases- Farmington Daily Times, Associated Press

A San Juan County prosecutor says numerous criminal cases probably will be dismissed because a New Mexico State Police officer is accused of federal drug charges alleging distribution of methamphetamine and distribution of marijuana.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said the District Attorney's Office is reviewing 68 pending cases in which 33-year-old Daniel Capehart of Bloomfield is listed as a witness.

O'Brien described Capehart's case as unusual and very rare.

Capehart is accused of trying to give methamphetamine to a woman and marijuana to a 16-year-old girl.

Community College Keeps Accreditation, Placed On Probation- Las Vegas Optic, Associated Press

Luna Community College in New Mexico learned it will retain its national accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

The Las Vegas Optic reports the commission, in a letter received by the college Monday, announced it is ending the show-cause order it issued to Luna last November and is placing the college on accreditation probation.

Probation is a sanction meaning an accredited institution is no longer in compliance with one or more of the commission's criteria for accreditation. While on probation, the college remains accredited, though it must make consistent and steady progress to remedy the issues that led to the sanction.

The college is required to provide evidence that it has addressed the issues no later than March 1, 2019, in preparation for the commission's on-site evaluation, which will take place no later than May 2019.

Driver cited in crash that spilled mine waste into creek- Associated Press

A Colorado man has been cited for careless driving after his truck crashed and spilled treated mine waste into a creek.

The Colorado State Patrol says 58-year-old Wesley Smith of Durango lost control of the truck Monday while hauling treated waste from a plant cleaning up water draining from the Gold King mine.

The Gold King was the source of a 2015 spill that tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 7 cubic yards of waste spilled into the creek. EPA initially said it was 9 cubic yards, but officials now say some stayed in the truck and some was removed from the creek.

EPA says the treated waste isn't hazardous.

Albuquerque Woman Pleads Guilty To Bank Fraud, Mail Theft- Associated Press

An Albuquerque woman has pleaded guilty to bank fraud, identify theft and theft of mail charges.

Prosecutors say 22-year-old Ericka Chavez entered her plea in federal court Tuesday.

U.S. Postal Inspectors arrested Chavez four months ago on a criminal complaint charging her with theft of mail.

The complaint alleged that cluster mailboxes at two Albuquerque-area apartment complexes were broken into and mail was stolen in October 2017 and February 2018.

Authorities say checks stolen from the mailboxes were altered and used to pay for memberships to Albuquerque stores.

Chavez has been in federal custody since her arrest and remains detained pending her sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Prosecutors say Chavez faces up to a 30-year prison term if convicted.

In New Mexico, 'Praying For Rain' Won't Be Enough- Associated Press

New Mexico's supply of groundwater should be reserved for periods of drought, communities should have sharing agreements in place when supplies are short and alternatives such as desalination should be explored regardless of the cost.

The recommendations are part of the state's draft water plan released late Monday by New Mexico's top water managers.

Updated every five years, the plan acknowledges the growing pressures of dry conditions and climate change on New Mexico's drinking and irrigation supplies. Like the rest of the American Southwest, New Mexico remains mired in severe to exceptional drought because of record-high temperatures and record-low precipitation in the winter and spring.

Stretches of the Rio Grande have gone dry, mountain pastures along the Arizona-New Mexico border are brown, and the aquifer that serves parts of New Mexico, Texas and several other states continues to drop.

Congresswoman Says Home State Shouldn't Be Heroin CapitalAssociated Press

Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham is promising to change New Mexico's reputation as the heroin capital of the nation.

Lujan Grisham launched a 30 second video advertisement on Tuesday that says opioids and crime are problems all across New Mexico, and that as governor she would force pharmaceutical companies to "stop pushing opioids and start paying for treatment."

Overdose deaths in New Mexico have hovered well above the national average even as the state has implemented pioneering policies to rein in fatalities. The crisis drew attention this year as President Trump praised an Albuquerque police officer for agreeing to adopt the unborn baby of a pregnant heroin user.

Lujan Grisham's ad says the state reduced overdoses through treatment when she was secretary of health, without citing statistics.

New Mexico Candidate For Governor Pledges Not To Raise TaxesAssociated Press

The Republican candidate for governor of New Mexico has signed a pledge to oppose tax increases if elected even as the state struggles to shore up its credit rating and address public pension liabilities.

Congressman and gubernatorial contender Steve Pearce has signed conservative activist Grover Norquist's famous pledge against any net tax increases if elected governor. Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform confirmed the pledge on Sunday.

The promise may be easily kept at first. New Mexico is in the midst of an oil-sector boom that is boosting state government income at current tax rates.

Fiscal analysts warn the anti-tax pledge eventually could limit Pearce's budget-balancing options and result in abrupt state spending cuts.

New Mexico's credit rating was recently downgraded over pension liabilities, Medicaid obligations and more.

Navajo Nation Urges Expansion Of Radiation Exposure LawAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation is urging Congress to expand a federal law that compensates people who were exposed to radiation.

Currently, the law covers people who lived downwind from nuclear test sites in Nevada, Arizona and Utah, and workers in the uranium mining industry in a dozen states.

Most claims under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act come from the Four Corners region.

Proposed amendments would expand the cutoff for uranium mining workers from 1971 to 1990.

Navajo officials say those workers were exposed to the same harmful conditions.

Residents of the New Mexico village of Tularosa near the site of the world's first atomic bomb test also want to be covered under the law.

Truck Crash Spills More Waste From Colorado Mine Into CreekAssociated Press

A truck hauling waste from a Colorado mine that caused a massive spill three years ago has crashed into a creek, spilling at least some of its load into the water.

Authorities say the driver wasn't seriously injured in the crash Monday, but about 9 cubic yards of waste sludge spilled into the creek.

The sludge is a byproduct of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency treatment plant cleaning up water draining from the inactive Gold King mine. The EPA has previously said the sludge is not hazardous.

Authorities say it doesn't appear the truck spilled any fuel.

The Gold King was the source of a 2015 spill that released 3 million gallons of potentially toxic wastewater, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Clint Eastwood Film Set To Begin Production In New MexicoAssociated Press

Production on a Clint Eastwood-directed film about a Mexican cartel is scheduled to begin in New Mexico.

New Mexico Film Office Director Nick Maniatis announced Monday that Eastwood's upcoming feature "The Mule," from Warner Bros. Pictures and Imperative Pictures, will film later this month in Las Cruces.

Starring Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburn, and Michael Peña, "The Mule" is the story of Earl Stone, a man in his 80's who is broke, alone and facing foreclosure of his business.  He is offered a job that simply requires him to drive. However, unbeknownst to Earl, he signs on as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel.

The New Mexico File Office says the production will employ around 85 New Mexico crew members and about 200 New Mexico background talent.

New Mexico Forest To Open As Forecast Calls For More RainAssociated Press

Another New Mexico forest will reopen as recent rains and the start of the monsoon season have helped to ease dry conditions and the threat of wildfire.

The Carson National Forest says trails, campgrounds and other areas across the northern New Mexico forest will open Tuesday morning but restrictions that prohibit campfires will remain in place.

The Santa Fe National Forest opened Monday, and state officials are planning to open Fenton Lake and Hyde Memorial state parks by midweek.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque reports more afternoon and evening thunderstorms are expected Tuesday in the western and southern portions. That activity is likely to intensify later in the week thanks to a monsoon surge coming up from Mexico.

Still, forecasters acknowledge that the start of the monsoon season has been spotty.

Management Shift Begins At US Nuclear Weapons LabAssociated Press

The U.S. government has cleared the way for a new management team to begin taking over one of the nation's top nuclear weapons laboratories.

The National Nuclear Security Administration issued an official notice to proceed to Triad National Security LLC on Monday, marking the beginning of a transition at Los Alamos National Laboratory that will take four months.

Triad is made up of Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, Texas A&M University and the University of California.

The group was announced in June as the winning bidder of an estimated $2.5 billion-a-year contract to manage the lab, which was been grappling with safety lapses and missed goals.

Triad has named Thomas Mason as the lab's director designate. He currently serves as senior vice president for Battelle's global lab operations and he's a former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Navajo Nation Company Buys Partial Ownership In Power PlantAssociated Press

Navajo Transitional Energy Company has acquired a 7 percent ownership interest in units 4 and 5 of the Four Corners Power Plant.

NTEC purchased the partial ownership from an affiliate of Arizona Public Service, which operates the coal-fired power plant.

The energy company is owned by the Navajo Nation.

NTEC owns the Navajo Mine south of Fruitland, New Mexico.

Tribal officials say ownership of a power plant is a first for a Navajo Nation enterprise.

APS also entered into an amended and restated coal supply agreement that will govern the power plant's fuel purchases from NTEC.

The deal gives NTEC more flexibility in the sale and purchase of coal from the Navajo Mine.

GOP Names Ex-Trump Officials As New Mexico SOS Candidate Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A former Trump administration appointee who recently came in third in a GOP congressional primary is now the Republican candidate for New Mexico secretary of state.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the New Mexico Republican Party's State Central Committee voted Saturday to place Gavin Clarkson on the ballot after previous GOP nominee JoHanna Cox dropped out amid mounting lawsuits.

The 49-year-old Clarkson served as deputy assistant secretary in President Donald Trump's U.S. Interior Department. He resigned in late 2017 after the department's inspector general released a report critical of a tribal loan program he ran.

Clarkson recently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against New Mexico State University, saying officials unfairly fired him from his position as a business professor when he started his congressional campaign.

Prosecutors Say New Mexico Officer Preyed On Woman, TeenAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico state police officer is facing charges after prosecutors say he tried to give methamphetamine to a woman and marijuana to a 16-year-old girl.

The Albuquerque Journal reports New Mexico State Police Officer Daniel Capehart is being held at the Cibola County Detention Center on suspicion of distributing marijuana and methamphetamine.

An FBI agent says Capehart pulled over two teenage girls in June and issued citations for marijuana possession. The agent says the 33-year-old Capehart gave a 16-year-old his business card with his personal cell number and started sending the girl flirtatious text messages and pictures of marijuana.

Investigators later arrested Capehart after an undercover sting where authorities say he tried to steal drugs from an officer posing as a drug dealer.

Capehart's attorney, Amy Sirignano, says he was trying to develop sources to fight drug trafficking.

Oil Company Close To Finalizing 3,000 Leases In CarlsbadCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

An Artesia-based oil company is close to finalizing numerous leases with mineral rights owners in Carlsbad as it moves ahead with plans to drill under the southeastern New Mexico city.

Santo Petroleum got approval from city councilors in 2017 to go door to door and offer residents five-year leases.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the company has obtained about 3,000 leases in the last year, covering the majority of the planned leasing area.

Santo President Hanson Yates says owners were offered a signing bonus up front and a percentage of the subsequent revenue, should the wells prove productive.

Yates says Santo hasn't published a timeline for development due to the complexity of readying such a large number of leases and tracts to drill.

The two biggest leases were with the City of Carlsbad and Carlsbad Municipal Schools.