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Auditor wants inquiry into land grant payments

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In 2011, many Tierra Amarilla Land Grant heirs were in an uproar after learning members of their board accepted payment for a waiver of mineral rights to an oil company.

Now, the State Auditor’s Office is calling for a criminal investigation into what happened to the $233,000 in proceeds from the deal. The payments were not for individual leases for oil and gas exploration, but for the waiver of claims to future mineral rights by the land grant heirs.

According to a recent letter from State Auditor Hector Balderas to the Legislature’s Land Grant Committee, questionable use of the money by now-deceased T.A. Land Grant board president Dennis Wells included:

  • Bank fees, including foreign currency exchange charges.
  • Purchases at casinos, gas stations, hotels, retail stores and online prescriptions, including for penis enhancement drugs.
  • Checks for dental work, a used car and residential carpet.

Balderas said this week that the questionable spending by Wells amounted to $233,000, but Evan Blackstone, the auditor’s chief of staff, said he could not comment on specific amounts when asked if any money remained from the mineral rights transaction.

Balderas also said others may be involved in the alleged misuse of the funds.

“There needs to be a thorough criminal investigation following up on the questionable purchases,” said Balderas.

He referred “potential criminal violations” to the FBI, the New Mexico Attorney General, the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, and the Fraud Investigations Division of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, as outlined in his April 29 letter to the Land Grant Committee chairman, Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque.

“I have made contact specifically with the FBI about the case,” Balderas said in an interview.

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