State official who pleaded the 5th no longer in charge of SNAP processing

A state official who pleaded her Fifth Amendment rights 39 times in federal court in May is no longer in charge of the Human Services Department’s Income Support Division, which processes federal food aid benefits. HSD Secretary Brent Earnest announced Friday, ahead of a holiday weekend, that Marilyn Martinez will no longer head the department’s Income Support Division. Starting today, Martinez will act as chief of the department’s financial services bureau in the administrative services division. “Marilyn has been a dedicated member of the HSD team for many years, recently serving as ISD Director,” Earnest wrote in an email to employees last Friday, “and I look forward to her contributing her experience and expertise within ASD.”

Martinez appeared on the stand as a witness in an ongoing lawsuit alleging that HSD is mishandling applications for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. There, Martinez invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer 39 questions from an attorney representing the Center on Law and Poverty.

Lawmakers question HSD head over SNAP fraud scandal

Just days after a state senator called for the resignation of New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest, the two kept things relatively cordial with one another in their first public meeting since then. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, chair of the interim Legislative Health and Human Services, gave the floor to Earnest during the Monday morning committee hearing by the committee to explain how he is addressing allegations in several court testimonies of a department policy to falsify and delay emergency food benefit applications. “I don’t believe that anything has been said about what you’re doing about that,” Ortiz y Pino told Earnest. Last week, Ortiz y Pino made a statement calling the alleged practice “completely unacceptable.”

“If Secretary Earnest did not know this was happening, he failed to lead the agency,” his statement said. “If he did know, but did nothing, then this is may be a very serious legal matter.”

During the hearing Monday, Earnest explained that since the allegations first surfaced in April, his department launched an internal investigation and issued a written directive to employees telling them to follow federal guidelines.

Accusations of widespread fraud at HSD grow while officials plead the fifth

LAS CRUCES — In a scene of high drama reminiscent of the TV drama “Law and Order,” three prominent state Human Services Department officials invoked their fifth amendment rights nearly 100 times in federal court Friday afternoon. Their refusal to answer questions came directly after sworn testimony from six HSD employees who alleged a widespread practice of fraudulently altering federal food benefits applications. The practice, according to eight former and current HSD employees who testified in federal court last month and today, amounts to adding false assets to the applications of people who would otherwise qualify for emergency aid from their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps. “I still don’t understand why I had to falsify assets,” Shar Lynne Louis, a case processor at HSD’s Income Support Division (ISD) office in Gallup who retired last July, said in court. Louis testified that the state had been practicing the pattern of fraud since at least 2003, when she first came to the department.