The state Auditor’s Office is reviewing the spending of public money by the University of New Mexico’s athletic department on a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included the athletic director, other employees and boosters, the agency confirmed Wednesday.
The review comes as the state’s universities and colleges are being forced to consider tuition increases and other cuts as New Mexico grapples with a budget crisis.
Athletic director Paul Krebs continues to draw criticism as more details about the international junket emerge after a series of public records requests filed by journalists, some of which netted documents with large swaths of information that had been blacked out.
Krebs has said the $65,000 trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors, but critics argue it should have been paid for by the university’s independent fundraising arm, not with athletic department money.
Albuquerque television station KRQE reported this week that Krebs recently revealed to the university’s acting president that public money was used to pay for the trips of at least three boosters.
The university told the Journal that discipline against Krebs was being considered.
Chaouki Abdallah, UNM’s acting president, said Wednesday that he’s looking forward to a timely process and that UNM will cooperate fully with the auditor’s review.
Athletic department spokesman Frank Mercogliano said the department and Krebs, who was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday, would cooperate with the review.
University officials were focused Wednesday on a budget summit as the Legislature began a special session aimed at restoring funding for all higher education in the state.
That UNM spent public money for private donors has raised questions about possible violations of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits state entities from making gifts to private citizens.
Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman with Auditor Tim Keller’s office, said the findings of the review will be made public once the investigators’ work is complete.
It was not clear how long the review will take. The Auditor’s Office has been looking into the matter for at least three weeks.
Records released several weeks ago show the golf trip cost about $39,000 for Krebs, former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club Executive Director Kole McKamey, and some of the records initially listed the trip as a basketball tournament in Ireland. But the university did not reveal that it had paid for the private donors to go on the trip despite journalists’ public records requests for all information regarding UNM’s expenses for the trip.
UNM finally released information about the private donors this week after Krebs informed Abdallah about UNM’s failure to release it earlier.
Abdallah told the television station that Krebs came to him and acknowledged that UNM picked up the tab for the boosters. He described it as a serious omission.
“This is not where university funds should be spent,” he said. “I want the public to know that in the future we will not be using university funds for such activities.”
Krebs said in a statement that UNM had not planned to pay for the donors’ trips in 2015 and that the situation “has to be corrected.” He acknowledged that the original plan was for the department to be reimbursed for the travel costs but that a review of documents showed that never happened.
“The public and our fans put their trust in us, and the only way to keep that trust is to admit when an error is made, to rectify it, and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Krebs also said an anonymous donor has recently given $25,000 to cover the cost of the private donors’ trips.
Journal staff contributed to this report.