July 5, 2016

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

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman cc

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.

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman cc

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman cc

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.

NM Political Report reached out to HSD spokesman Kyler Nerison Monday morning and will update this post if he responds.

Many of the questions Martinez refused to answer on the stand revolved around testimonies from nine HSD employees who said they were instructed to add fake assets to emergency SNAP applications so people who would otherwise qualify wouldn’t receive food benefits.

“Were you the original author of this illegal practice?” attorney Daniel Yohalem* asked Martinez in court that day.

“I’m invoking my Fifth Amendment right,” she replied. “Pursuant to that right, I will not be answering questions.”

“Had you ever advised anybody that this practice should not be followed?” Yohalem continued.

Martinez repeated the same words.

Meanwhile, one employee, Alexandra Hancock, testified that Martinez reprimanded her for correctly processing a late emergency SNAP application.

Last month, HSD placed Martinez in charge of much of a corrective action plan to fix various problems in the state department’s SNAP program outlined by the federal government. The move led to criticism from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18, a union which represents the state’s SNAP and Medicaid case processors.

Earnest and HSD Deputy Secretary Sean Pearson will run ISD together “until a new director is found,” according to Earnest’s email. Pearson will “oversee the direct reports of the ISD director and the day-to-day functions of the ISD director’s office,” Earnest wrote.

*Daniel Yohalem previously represented the author of this story when he was a staff writer at the Santa Fe Reporter as part of a public records lawsuit against the governor’s office.