Posts Tagged ‘Fraud’

Richardson Approval Numbers in Free Fall

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The Teflon Governor is Teflon no more.

We’re going to have our New Mexico poll results out starting tomorrow- perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that Bill Richardson has become one of the least popular Governors in the country, with 63% of voters in the state disapproving of him to only 28% approving. He’s even in negative territory among Democrats at a 42/47 spread.

I’ve always been amazed by Governor Bill Richardson’s early popularity. Despite the rhetoric, the “successes” of this Administration have been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days, but you can just hit the appropriate label button below and read it all without me repeating it.

So, what does this all mean for the Democratic hopefuls during this upcoming election year.  Well, right now it looks like Richardson Administration #2, Lt. Governor Diane Denish, is still polling out ahead… barely:

Where New Mexico departs from its regional counterparts is that it still looks favored to vote Democratic in its most significant statewide race this year. Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish leads her top Republican opponent, Pete Domenici Jr., by a 45-40 margin and has leads of 14-18 points over the rest of the GOP field.

Denish is by far the best known of the candidates running, with 41% of voters in the state holding a positive opinion of her to just 34% who see her negatively.

 Keep in mind, the Lt. Governor has been campaigning for this position for going on two years. So, I don’t know that those  numbers are anything to celebrate about – especially, considering Pete Domenici Jr. just got in the race a couple of weeks ago.

It’s going to be very hard for the Lt. Governor to start disengaging herself from the Governor after Denish has been so silent for so long. Only 34% of the voters see her negatively right now, but let’s be realistic.  She has operated in the shadow of Governor for the last eight years. His failed policies are bringing him down very quickly.  It’s not going to be very long before that same problem is encountered by Richardson’s #2. This is particularly true when we consider that the Governor spent so much time out of state during his Presidential dream chasing, that the state was actually being run by Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

Weak Attempt at an Alibi

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

We’ve all seen the movie plot line. It’s been in every mob movie made to date. The mob boss needs an alibi.  So, he makes a point of being seen somewhere other than the scene of the crime.  After all, if he was seen by hundreds at a party, how could he possibly be linked to the crime in question.  Sure, his hired guns were there, but hey, there’s no guilt by association, right?

The State Investment Council got together this week to hear what outside consultants found in their review of the agency. 

To no surprise, Gov. Bill Richardson, who chairs the council and controls it through his appointment of a majority of its members, didn’t attend the council meeting.

As I first reported last February, Richardson has rarely attended the meetings of the State Investment Council, which invests billions of dollars in state endowment funds.

Now, the governor is using his absence in an apparent bid to distance himself from the scandal that has rocked the council over the past several months.

“The reality is I left decisions to my state investment board,” Richardson told reporters Tuesday. “I hardly attended meetings. I felt that I shouldn’t be part of decisions.”

Now we know why the movie industry loves to come to New Mexico. We provide great inspiration for future plot lines.

An Interesting Choice

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Listen, I’m the first one to advocate for cutting the explosion of appointed positions from state government. But, with the culture of corruption and fraud that has plagued New Mexico under Governor Bill Richardson’s, especially in the arena of investments, this cut leaves you scratching your head:

One employee who got a pink slip said his job probably isn’t the kind the Legislature intended to eliminate.

Bruce Kohl, head of the Securities Division at the Regulation and Licensing Department, said he’s a recognized expert in his field who has put in 15 years at the division under several governors.

“I think they intended to get rid of political deadwood, not the technical professionals needed to run state government,” he said.

“I think the public has the perception that exempts are a bunch of political hacks who can’t be touched, but there are some very good people who serve as exempt employees,” he said.

Kohl, an attorney, worried more about what’s next for the division than his own future. Among other things, the division brings securities fraud cases.

This is right up there with those that were looking to gut the State Auditor’s office. There is only one way I think this makes sense. That is if the Governor’s office is going to release a statement that says Mr. Kohl was guilty of looking the other way while the Richardson Administration allowed political connections to be used to guide investment contracts that resulted in millions upon millions of dollars in losses for New Mexico taxpayers.

Of course, if the opposite were true, and Mr. Kohl played a role in bringing these practices to light, well, then it sure would appear that the Richardson Administration is going after the good guys. I don’t know which it is, but someone’s got some explaining to do.

Taxes Before Responsibility

Friday, November 20th, 2009

There’s a war brewing for the 2010 Legislative Session. The battle lines have been drawn, and on one side are those that believe government excess should be pared down, and on the other side are those that want to see the tax and spend party to continue by raising even more taxes. The spend, spend, spend people have formed the organization, Better Choices New Mexico, to make their case, which basically boils down to:

This alliance of small businesses, faith-based groups, working families, and nonprofit organizations believes cutting critical services and programs would be a terrible mistake. Instead, the Legislature needs to open the books on tax expenditures, close the loopholes for out-of-state corporations, and rollback the tax breaks for the wealthy.

What’s amazing to me is that essentially what they are defending is the spending gone wild policies that have left us in an economic crisis that should not have occurred. Any organization that wants to be taken seriously about seeing better choices in New Mexico had better address the severe mismanagement of taxpayer funds by the state before asking for more money. Their one-pager makes the case over and over again for increasing revenue, but not once does it talk about cutting expenses. The closest it comes is to suggest shifting dollars from one area of waste to another.

And, mind you there is a lot of waste in government spending in this state. There are the obvious signs of waste that are uncovered everyday:

Nemazee and others connected to Carret Asset Management gave campaign contributions to Gov. Bill Richardson before and after receiving the contract, according to the magazine. “The contract with the State Investment Council, which oversees $12 billion in trust funds from oil and gas leasing fees, has so far yielded $1.7 million in fees for Carret,” the author of the article, Nathan Vardi, reports.

Of course, no one wants to take responsibility for this kind of waste:

Richardson’s spokesman says the governor, who is chairman of the New Mexico State Investment Council, played no role whatsoever in the hiring of Carret.

Only in New Mexico could the Chairman get away with full denial of accountability. Then again, this is the same Governor who can hand out multi-million dollar favors like candy on Halloween
without the least bit of economic restraint, no matter how bad out budget situation may be:

I’m positively shocked that Governor Richardson has been a long time friend of the Hool brothers who are behind the Santa Fe Studios. The project, which I wrote about a few months ago, is being subsidized to the tune of $10 million by state taxpayers with taxpayers in Santa Fe County chipping in another $6 million. The whole thing stinks.

Of course, at the same time as he is pushing for additional subsidies for an already-subsidized industry, Richardson is pushing for tax hikes on the rest of us.

Then, there is the wasteful spending that is not so obvious unless you’re a government insider:

I am a state employee who is faced with trying to determine where to cut groceries, utilities, Christmas spending…I can accept the furlough…However, I looked at the salaries at executive agencies and must ask how did the agency on aging become a full Department? Military affairs? Where did some of these commissions come from? Do we need them or should we place higher expectations on persons employed in these areas? For example, why isn’t the Department of Homeland Security part of the Department of Public Safety?

Why not consolidate programs and eliminate some high salaried executives? Why are we paying outlandish rents for private buildings when there are vacant government buildings? I am not placing the blame on any branch of government, just venting.

Well, someone better start blaming a branch of government. It’s called accountability. But, then again, its easier to push for tax increases than to actually try to make a better choices in New Mexico. After all, it’s all about our children, right?

Three sport utility vehicles purchased for school administrators from an out-of-state dealer. A $91,000 tow truck. Thousands of dollars for iPods for students. Paying athletes and cheerleaders to pull weeds. Lunches, including a $110 tab at the Rio Chama Steakhouse paid for by federal funds intended for low-income students.

These are just some of the questionable expenditures uncovered by audits of five medium-sized school districts that were discussed Thursday at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee. One LFC staffer said these audits “barely scratch the surface” of waste and abuse in some school districts.

Yeah, it’s all about the children. Now, you tell me something. Do better choices start with putting more money in state coffers, or does it start by saying enough is enough? Until the people taking and spending our money are held accountable for their fiscal mismanagement, corruption and fraud, I say they don’t get to increase taxes by even one tenth of one percent.

Shooting the Messenger is a Mistake

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Jim Scarantino broke a story yesterday on the New Mexico Watchdog Website about Lt. Governor Diane Denish’s misuse of federal funds that is getting a lot of attention:

Lt. Governor Diane Denish used $225,000 in federal funds to pay for a driver to shuttle her to meetings and press events, a contractor to take Christmas pictures and write Christmas cards, a lawyer to make hotel reservations, opinion polling and public relations services. The money was given to her for “various projects” by Governor Bill Richardson. The money came from unallocated federal fiscal stimulus funds transferred to the New Mexico treasury under the 2003 Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.

The fact that yet another misuse of federal funds by this Administration has emerged is not particularly surprising. Actually, it would be surprising to find an administration department or official that was not misusing federal funds. Luckily, we do have the New Mexico Watchdog to look into these inappropriate use of taxpayer money since the the defrauders are seeking to render useless the one state agency that can help uncover other violations of the public trust:

The Legislature and governor reduced the general fund money appropriated to the auditor’s office by 14 percent earlier this year, telling the auditor to replace that money with other cash. Now, bills awaiting action from the governor would cut an additional 4 percent from the auditor’s budget and take $500,000 from the fund the state auditor is required to use to supplement its funding.

The loss of that $500,000 would amount to an 81 percent reduction in the so-called “audit fund” – the very fund the Legislature told the auditor earlier this year to use to make up for the 14 percent reduction in its general fund appropriation.

The sum of those budget reductions would plunge the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) – the agency charged with ensuring that state government isn’t plagued by fraud, waste and abuse — “into a budget crisis,” auditor spokeswoman Caroline Buerkle said.

Oh, I know we’re in a budget crisis. But, that is precisely why we should not be gutting the State Auditor’s office. The one office in state government that has of late actually been looking after the public interest. Want to know who is misspending our money? I’d suggest looking at those who are most eager to see the State Auditor budget cut.

Back to Lt. Governor Diane Denish’s problem. No, the problem is not the misuse of federal funds, the problem is, that in what has become the standard modus operandi of this Administration, Lt. Governor Diane Denish is attacking the messenger instead of owning the mistake and making an amends:

Denish’s office provided records to the Journal late Wednesday. The office also sent a statement from Denish chief of staff Joshua Rosen, saying, “The accusations made by this right-wing organization and advanced by Republican candidates for governor are reckless manipulations of the truth.

Ok, you can call Jim Scarantino a lot of things, but right-wing organization is not one of them:

In 2000, Jim co-chaired the McCain for President effort in New Mexico. In 2004, in protest of the administration of George W. Bush, Jim switched to the Democratic Party. Since then, he has continued to support the person he believes is the best candidate for the office, left the GOP. Jim is currently registered Independent, but reserves the right to register with either party to support the right person in a party primary.

Anti-establishment guy? Yes. Right-wing mouthpiece? Absolutely not. [A disclosure here… I get along well with Jim, but he has oscillated over the years between attacking me and making nice. We are currently in the making nice period.]

And, attacking the messenger instead of taking ownership is not the only mistake being made by Lt. Governor Denish:

Denish’s chief of staff, Joshua Rosen, said all the funds were spent for legitimate purposes. A list of talking points included in documents the office gave The New Mexican said, “The money that was given to this office under the federal act represented less than 1 percent given to the state.”

Talked about your mixed messages. First, they try to pretend there is nothing wrong with the misuse of funds, and then they try and minimize the size of the crime. Sorry folks, that’s just not going to fly. Just because this isn’t as bad as, say the fraud perpetrated by the former Secretary of State, doesn’t mean it isn’t just as wrong.

Lt. Governor Denish had an opportunity here, and she blew it. She could have shown leadership, owned the mistake and made it right. Instead, she did what this Administration always does, try to dodge the bullet and shift blame.

Obama Town Hall in NM on Credit Cards

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

It looks like President Obama is coming back to New Mexico, and the topic of conversation:

Gov. Bill Richardson says President Barack Obama is planning to visit Albuquerque next week to hold a town hall meeting on credit card debt.

Here is the thing. There has been an awful lot of talk on this front. Yet, if you want to file a complaint against what appears to be abusive practices, the federal government makes you jump through unnecessary hoops.

You might remember that not long ago I put up a post regarding what I thought was a rather questionable practice by Bank of America:

So, the question is raised, “Why would Bank of America intentionally set a Sunday due date if making payment on this date is going to cause the consumer to be considered late?” When I spoke to the customer service representative, I was told that when I logged online to pay my bill, there was a disclaimer that it would not be processed on time. Of course, by that point in time there is absolutely no way to make a timely payment on the account – because Bank of America purposely set the due date to fall on a SUNDAY. In fact, he told me, even if I had paid the bill on Saturday, the day before it was due according to my statement, it still would not have been processed in time.

In that post I indicated that I didn’t take all of this sitting down. Instead, I spent some time researching which was the appropriate federal agency with which to file a complaint, and submitted a very detailed online complaint with the Comptroller of Currency.

What did I get for my trouble? I got an email response that said:

We handle a large volume of Emails. Since you have been assigned a case number, we request that you communicate with us through phone (800-613-6743), fax (713-336-4301), or regular mail as we do not process complaints by Email.

This is absurd. I’m not asking them to act on my behalf as much as I’m asking them to look into a situation which is no doubt impacting millions of Americans. Since I doubt I’ll receive an invitation to ask questions at the President’s town hall in New Mexico, maybe one of the Democrats reading this can ask the question I raised in that previous post.

Remembering Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya

Monday, April 27th, 2009

It seems like a long time ago, right? Every day and every night the news was filled with stories of former New Mexico Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya, and their scandalous, kickback driven investments of taxpayer funds. Of course, it wasn’t really that long ago. In fact, it’s only been four years.

And, four years later, it looks like we’ve still have all of the EXACT SAME corruption problems. Sure it’s different people taking money. But, the result is basically the same. New Mexico taxpayers are the big losers. Four years ago we had lost millions of dollars. Now we’ve lost billions of dollars.

So, who is to blame? Well, we can obviously start at the top. A little less than four years ago, our Governor Richardson made the following proclamation:

Governor Bill Richardson has ordered “a comprehensive review of state investments and investment contracts, and is proposing a number of strict new procedures regarding the state investment process,” his office announced Tuesday. The announcement comes on the heels of State Treasurer Robert Vigil and former State Treasurer Michael Montoya being arrested and charged with extorting kickbacks from brokers handling state investment accounts.

Richardson said the state will conduct “a top to bottom review of all investment practices and a review of all investment contracts and has directed state agencies to conduct an internal assessment of all investment activities at all levels of state government.”

Well, in light of the ongoing federal investigations, we have only two possible conclusions to draw:

  1. The Governor failed miserably in his promise to conduct a top to bottom review of all investment practices.


  2. The Governor and his administration conducted this full assessment and decided it was in their own self interest to keep pay to play schemes in place and continue the time honored practice of defrauding taxpayers.

It will be interesting to see if the current federal investigation turns up the results of the”internal assessment of all investment activities” that was required of each state agency. Actually, why wait fro the federal investigation to be complete. Maybe one of our state’s remaining reporters will file a FOIA request to get a peak at those assessments.

But, is it only the Governor who is to blame? No. As mentioned above, there are appointees who obviously failed to do their jobs. There are also the legislators who acted as enablers:

Until 2005, the ERB was limited in what types of investments it could make, primarily stocks and bonds with a history of paying dividends.

The legislature changed that in 2005, but it took the ERB the better part of a year to get into a position to diversify its investments to include hedge funds, private equity funds that invest in companies that are not publicly traded and other specialty areas.

We’ve got another round of elections coming up. First, the Albuquerque City elections, and then before we know it, we’ll have the statewide elections in 2010. If we vote the same people back into office time and time again, the cycle of corruption will continue. Isn’t time to say enough is enough?

Bank of America Credit Card Policy Tantamount to Fraud

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Tomorrow Barack Obama will officially become our 44th President, and his top priority will be to deal with the economic mess in which we now find ourselves:

President-elect Barack Obama will demand that banks receiving public support step up lending, top advisers said on Sunday, as they promised to make restoring the flow of credit a top priority for the new US administration.

“I think he is going to have a strong message for the bankers,” David Axelrod, a senior Obama strategist told ABC’s This Week. “We want to see credit flowing again. We don’t want them to sit on any money that they get from taxpayers.”

Lawrence Summers, the incoming director of the National Economic Council, told CBS’ Face the Nation that banks receiving public injections of capital would be “expected to lend above their baseline levels”.

Well, before the federal government hands out anymore taxpayer money to banks, I think they ought to take a good hard look at some of the deceptive, and dare I say it, fraudulent practices of America’s largest banks.

Let’s just take Bank of America for example. Bank of America is poised to receive another $20 billion in bailout dollars from America’s taxpayers:

Two weeks after closing its purchase of Merrill Lynch at the urging of U.S. regulators, the government cemented a deal at midnight Thursday to supply Bank of America with a fresh $20 billion capital injection and absorb as much as $98.2 billion in losses on toxic assets, according to people involved in the transaction.

The bank had been pressing the government for help after it was surprised to learn that Merrill would be taking a fourth-quarter write-down of $15 billion to $20 billion, according to two people who have been briefed on the situation, in addition to Bank of America’s rising consumer loan losses.

The second lifeline brings the government’s total stake in Bank of America to $45 billion and makes it the bank’s largest shareholder, with a stake of about 6 percent.

But, here’s the thing… While Bank of America is securing billions upon billions of dollars in bailout money from the taxpayers, they are also scamming credit card holders. To illustrate my point, please read the letter below that I filed this weekend with the Comptroller of the Currency among others:

Dear Comptroller of Currency:

I am writing to request an investigation into what I believe to be an intentionally fraudulent and predatory practice by Bank of America and their credit card division to raise interest rates on consumers who in good faith pay their bills on the due date printed on their statement. Like millions of Americans, I pay the vast majority of my bills online. With the shortened period that most credit card companies are now allowing from invoice date to due date, it seems like the only way to ensure your payment is received by the due date.

On my most recent statement, I noticed that the special 2.99% promotion I was enjoying had jumped to 14.99%. As I always pay my bills on or by the due date, I called Bank of America to inquire what caused the interest rate to rise 500% in one months time. They explained that although my payment was indeed made on the due date shown on my previous statement, December 14, 2008, that it was not processed until the next day, December 15, 2008. For this reason, I was charged a $39.00 late fee and saw my interest rate increase exponentially.

It turns out that December 14, 2008 was a Sunday, and Bank of America does not process payments received on a Sunday.

So, the question is raised, “Why would Bank of America intentionally set a Sunday due date if making payment on this date is going to cause the consumer to be considered late?” When I spoke to the customer service representative, I was told that when I logged online to pay my bill, there was a disclaimer that it would not be processed on time. Of course, by that point in time there is absolutely no way to make a timely payment on the account – because Bank of America purposely set the due date to fall on a SUNDAY. In fact, he told me, even if I had paid the bill on Saturday, the day before it was due according to my statement, it still would not have been processed in time.

On the back of every Bank of America Statement is the following written statement:

Payment Due Dates and Keeping Your Account in Good Standing
Your Payment Due Date will not fall on the same day each month. In order to help maintain any promotional rates, to avoid the imposition of Default Rates (if applicable), to avoid late payment fees, and to avoid overlimit fees, we must receive at least the Total Minimum Payment Due by its payment Due Date each billing cycle and you must maintain your account balance below your credit limit each day.

It does not state that if your Payment Due Date falls on a weekend, you should make your online payment on the business day prior to the Payment Due Date. Each and very statement includes an “Important Information About Your Account” section, and although there are several messages printed, not one of these messages tells you to note that your Payment Due Date this month falls on a Sunday, and you should pay on the business day before in order to remain in good standing.

Now, I am fortunate. I have enough good credit that I’m able to transfer this debt to another credit card company at an equally low rate of interest and avoid falling prey to Bank of America’s attempt to defraud. However, I would imagine that in these tough economic times millions of other Americans do not have the same option. As such, and in light of the billions in federal bailout funds that Bank of America has received, I strongly urge you to investigate this practice by Bank of America to purposely set their Payment Due Dates to fall on a Sunday.


Mario Burgos

Now, keep in mind, I’ve defended just about every type of lending practice out there. I honestly don’t have a problem with lending institutions charging what some may see as exorbitant rates. I believe that the borrower has a responsibility to act prudently. However, this institutionalized practice by Bank of America in an attempt to defraud must be investigated, prosecuted and, I can’t believe I’m about to say this… It must be regulated.

Block Gives Our Money to Hillary

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

It’s official, Jerome Block, Jr. is the poster child for all of us against taxpayer financing of campaigns:

In his latest campaign-finance report, Jerome Block Jr. gave $700 to Hillary Clinton, well after the former first lady had given up her run for president.

The contribution, made with public campaign funds, is dated Aug. 25, a week after Gov. Bill Richardson hosted fundraisers in New Mexico to help Clinton get rid of her multimillion-dollar campaign debt.

A section of the Voter Action Act, which funds Public Regulation Commission campaigns, says, “All money distributed to a certified candidate shall be used for that candidate’s campaign-related purposes in the election cycle in which the money was distributed.”

Mind you, this is the guy who has:

  1. already admitted to campaign fraud.
  2. a troubled legal history.
  3. made a potentially illegal payment to an Attorney General employee.

Where’s the outrage from all of those pushing ethics reform session after session? As if to add insult to injury, on top of everything else listed above, Block is dining at Twin Peaks on our dime.

If Only We Had An Ethics Commission

Friday, May 16th, 2008

If only we had an ethics commission to train state employees about ethical behavior, I’m sure this would have never happened:

A former employee of the state Children, Youth and Families Department and several other Silver City-area residents have been accused of defrauding the state of more than half a million dollars.

Andrea Munoz, 34, allegedly received kickbacks from people who were fraudulently reimbursed for child care services never provided. The alleged scheme involved the department’s Child Care Program, which reimburses low-income parents for baby-sitting services.

Court documents allege 16 people admitted receiving checks from CYFD, cashing them and splitting the proceeds with Munoz between 2001 and 2006.

Romaine Serna, a spokeswoman for CYFD, said $574,000 was allegedly taken.

Serna said the scale of the alleged fraud is the largest the agency has encountered.

Yeah right. How about we just get rid of unnecessary government welfare programs that hand out checks? That would be a much better way of eliminating these situations. Every time the government doles out cash, the end result is fraud.