Appropriations for State Auditor pass committee

When newly-elected State Auditor Joseph Maestas took office, he found himself in charge of a budget he had no say in developing. This led to one bill proposal for appropriations that otherwise would have been included in the State Auditor’s Office budget. SB 323 seeks to replace the SAO’s current fraud complaint management system. “We get anonymous complaints of fraud, waste and abuse, by telephone, by email through our website, through various means,” Maestas said. “Intake averages about 300 cases a year.

APS changes leave audit staff out of work

When told earlier this week that Albuquerque Public Schools would not be completely eliminating her department, Director of the Internal Audit office Peg Koshmider said it was news to her. Koshmider told NM Political Report  APS told her department they would no longer be employed by the school district after June. “We all got letters of termination,” Koshmider said. Koshmider said her last day at APS is June 30 and she still isn’t sure whether APS will look to move the three employees she oversees to other positions within APS. Koshmider said she herself may end up unemployed and drawing from what she has paid into her retirement fund—even if she “certainly wasn’t intending to retire” before she received the letter of termination.

Auditor raises concerns about med pot audits

The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office called on two state agencies to look into a medical cannabis executive director who is accused of a conflict of interest related to audits. In letters to the Department of Health and the Public Accountancy Board, a group within the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department that oversees public accountants, the state Auditor’s office expressed concern that Vivian Moore, a certified public accountant, may have created a conflict of interest by conducting independent audits of medical cannabis producers. This is because Moore also is the executive director of Doña Ana County-based Mother Earth Herbs, Inc.

Mother Earth Herbs, Inc. is a medical marijuana distributor licensed by the state. The letters came from Special Investigations Director Kevin Sourisseau. Sourisseau wrote that his office was made aware of “independence issues” concerning Moore and the audits she has allegedly performed for other producers.

State Auditor announces actual number of backlogged rape kits

New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller announced on Friday morning that his office determined how many rape kits that are sitting untested around the state. In a press release, Keller said his office worked with the Department of Public Safety in concluding there are 5,406 untested Sexual Assault Evidence kits in New Mexico. “Bringing transparency to the backlog is a first step towards fixing this issue, which is critical to survivors and our public safety,” Keller said. Keller’s office said they worked with DPS in retrieving numbers from each respective law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. DPS requested the numbers and the Auditor’s office followed up with those agencies that did not respond.

Audit: Former Española principal misused $12K in student candy money

A report from State Auditor Tim Keller released Thursday takes a former Española Public School District principal to task for allegedly misusing more than $12,000 from a candy fundraiser last year. Though the audit doesn’t list the former principal’s name, NM Political Report has learned it’s referring to Norma Lara, who used to head San Juan Elementary. “In addition, the same Principal was found to be pocketing money from game gate fund wherein she was responsible for maintaining certain gate receipts during the games,” the audit reads. “The receipts turned in to the athletic director were found to be off sequence.”

Lara, who is now a first grade teacher at Pablo Roybal Elementary in Pojoaque, did not return a handwritten message sent to her classroom this morning. Specifically, the audit states that it examined records from 10 teachers who participated in the fundraiser, which was meant to raise money for student activity funds, along with Lara’s records.

Complaint against Tax. Dept. lawyer adds details to scandal

Newly released documents appear to show a top state Taxation and Revenue Department staffer was involved in alleged abuse of power that is subject to an ongoing probe. © New Mexico Political Report, 2015. Contact for info on republishing.  

In July, State Auditor General Counsel Sarita Nair filed an ethics complaint against Tax Department lead attorney Brad Odell with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of New Mexico, NM Political Report has learned. The Disciplinary Board opted not to take action against Odell, citing that it lacked sufficient evidence.

‘IDIOTS’: TRD attorney criticized agency for botched redaction

When New Mexico Political Report discovered and reported on a botched redaction from the state Taxation and Revenue Department this summer, the state responded with a threat. “You purposely manipulated the document in order to reveal taxpayer return information and thwart the purpose of the redaction,” tax department spokesman Ben Cloutier wrote to us in July. “You have published taxpayer return information despite the clear intent that it remain confidential. It is unlawful for any person other than the taxpayer to intentionally reveal to any other person the taxpayer’s return information.”

Yet internal emails show at least one current tax department attorney faulted his employer, and not New Mexico Political Report, for the mishap. “I have been telling the Department for years that we are not redacting documents properly,” tax department attorney Lewis Terr wrote in an email the same day we published the story.

NM special ed funding problems run deep

As a report from the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office reaffirmed, New Mexico has had serious problems with funding special education in recent years. But the state’s ongoing struggles with special education go deeper than the audit, which found the state underfunded special education by $110 million from 2010-2012. Throughout the years, state lawmakers have clashed with Gov. Susana Martinez on how to fix the problem. The issue goes back to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a landmark federal law passed in the 1970s that mandated public education access to special-needs students. Part of the law requires every state increase special education money each year or keep it level from the year before to make sure each special needs student services are met.

Audit: NM underfunded special ed students

New Mexico underfunded special education by $110 million over three years, according to a report released today from State Auditor Tim Keller. In a letter to the chairmen of the state Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, Keller says that the consequences could jeopardize future money from the federal government to pay for special education. Keller also said in a statement that the audit shows “serious shortcomings in our state’s ability to serve special education students, who are some of the most vulnerable participants in our education system and deserve better.”

His letter adds that the funding problems stem from “material weakness and significant deficiencies” within the state Public Education Department. Every year, the state is expected to fund special education at a certain level to qualify for federal money under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). That certain amount of money is typically called the “maintenance of effort,” or MOE.

State can’t account for at least $100 million

Once again, New Mexico’s financials are too poor to merit a comment from an independent auditor. For the second year in a row, the state received a “disclaimer of opinion” on its most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is supposed to give the most accurate picture of New Mexico’s financial condition. That’s because the state can’t account for at least $100 million of its own money, though the State Auditor’s Office says that the estimate of unaccounted-for money may be “substantially higher.”

New Mexico is overestimating money held in its savings account, or reserves. Reserves are different than the money used for the state’s annual budgets and act as a backup fund during bad economic times. For nearly a decade, New Mexico hasn’t been able to properly perform this act of balancing its own checkbook.