Now that two state judges have sided with the attorney general in concluding that taxpayers have no right to a $3 million audit they paid for while his office conducts a criminal investigation, it’s up to Gary King to make that secrecy pay off.
And the track record of his office when it comes to prosecutions in high-profile cases is less than inspiring.
State District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe has ruled the controversial state Human Services Department audit that alleges up to $36 million in overpayments, mismanagement and possible fraud by 15 behavioral-health providers can properly be withheld by the attorney general under the “law enforcement” exception to the Inspection of Public Records Act.
The judge determined the audit met the test of including confidential methods and information, and/or potential witnesses who “may be sources and some of whom may be charged with a crime or accused at a future date.” Last month State District Judge Douglas Driggers in Las Cruces reached a similar conclusion in another case seeking to make the audit public.
HSD officials have said they have no independent objection to releasing the audit but are following King’s directives to withhold it.
King’s lawyers in court talked of a sweeping investigation involving virtually all the resources of the AG’s Medicaid Fraud Unit that has gone far beyond the original audit.
Whether that provides comfort – or apprehension – to the providers who had their Medicaid funding frozen and/or operations taken over by Arizona providers remains to be seen.
But the AG’s track record isn’t good. The AG’s office has recovered just 53 cents for every public dollar spent investigating Medicaid fraud, estimated at $75 million annually in New Mexico.
There are other cases that give pause. The fraud prosecution of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and others in connection with millions in missing federal taxpayer cash crashed and burned. The office spent 16 months investigating a State Investment Council contract with a San Francisco law firm that started out at $30,000 but ballooned over six amended versions to $5.1 million without being put out to bid.
And on the IPRA front, the office was slapped with $47,000 and $20,000 court reprimands to cover legal fees and costs for withholding salary and other records in violation of the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.
Thoroughness and due diligence are important, especially when it comes to criminal prosecutions, but so is accountability to those accused, those wronged and those picking up the tab. King has had this audit for nearly half a year.
King will leave the AG’s Office after next year thanks to term limits and is already running for governor. One endorsement he could give himself for higher office would be to justify his actions in his current one.
And in this instance, that would mean delivering in a timely fashion the results of the investigation he says his secrecy is protecting.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.