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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is investigating a controversial 2015 golf junket to Scotland organized by the University of New Mexico athletics department in which public funds paid for boosters to attend, which the attorney general said appears to violate the state’s anti-donation clause.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, in a letter dated and delivered Thursday to several UNM officials, said that recent media reports and a “public statement” by Lobos athletic director Paul Krebs “indicates that he had full knowledge in 2015 … that public funds were used to pay for the expenses of private individuals.”
He continues: “This acknowledgement, in and of itself, demands swift and appropriate action by the university.”
News of the AG’s Office investigation follows confirmation Wednesday that New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller had opened an investigation into the matter three weeks ago after an anonymous tip on the state’s fraud, waste and abuse hotline.
“As a public institution, the University of New Mexico welcomes the oversight of state offices charged with protecting taxpayers’ interests,” UNM acting President Chaouki Abdallah said in an emailed statement. “We will cooperate fully with the State Auditor’s review and the Attorney General’s inquiry, and look forward to having both assessments completed in a timely manner.”
Balderas’ letter included, “It is clear by his public admission that actions taken by Vice President Krebs are contrary to the high ethical standards he and all university officials must uphold, and implicate violations of the GCA (Governmental Conduct Act).”
Balderas said his office will also look into UNM’s failure to fulfill local journalists’ Inspection of Public Records Act requests.
UNM has said Abdallah has not decided whether Krebs will face discipline.
Krebs’ contract ends 2019
Krebs, who is out of town tending to unrelated personal matters, is under contract through 2019 as the longest tenured athletic director in the Mountain West Conference.
His current four-year contract through June 2019, ironically signed the week he returned from the 2015 Scotland trip, pays him an annual base salary and compensation package of $419,000.
There is nothing owed him if fired with cause. UNM would owe him the remaining base salary on the contract if he were terminated without cause. If he steps down, there is no buyout owed to either party.
Krebs did not give a definitive answer when the Journal asked earlier this week whether he had any plans to retire, prior to both the AG’s Office and Auditor’s Office news breaking.
“If and when I decide to retire from athletics, it will be announced on my timetable,” Krebs said.
Krebs acknowledged last month that UNM spent $39,000 for the trip, which was aimed at strengthening relations with donors. He said that money went for his flight and golf package, the golf package of then-Lobos men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club Executive Director Kole McKamey. Several family members and boosters also attended, but Krebs said at the time that the school did not pay for any of their expenses.
And in response to an April 17 Inspection of Public Records Act request by the Journal seeking documentation for everything UNM paid for on that trip, UNM provided records of expenses for Krebs, Neal and McKamey, but no information on UNM’s payment for the three boosters.
That information was finally disclosed last week, after Krebs notified Abdallah of those payments.
“In reviewing notes from the trip, we discovered internally that the outings for three donors were paid for via UNM athletics,” Krebs said in a statement emailed to the Journal on Tuesday. “The original plan was for UNM to not pay for any donors, but due to some late cancellations because of unforeseen circumstances, we had three golf trips that were paid for but would have been unused.”
The golf packages (six nights of lodging and tee times on five historic Scotland courses) for the three boosters totaled about $25,000 of UNM money.
“The original plan was to have this reimbursed back, but in reviewing documents, it was noticed that this didn’t happen,” Krebs’ email said.
Attempts to reach the boosters — local businessmen and Lobo Club members Paul Gibson, Darin Davis and Raleigh Gardenhire — about whether UNM ever asked them to reimburse the university have been unsuccessful.
UNM said an anonymous donor last week gave the UNM Foundation, UNM’s independent fundraising arm, a $25,000 check to cover the expenses.
UNM has not responded to the Journal’s questions seeking details about the check or how the donor specified that the money should go to the athletics department for that particular purpose. A copy of the check has not been provided to the Journal.
The attorney general’s letter Thursday was sent to Krebs, Abdallah, State Auditor Tim Keller and members of the UNM Board of Regents.
“I welcome the inquiry because it’s important that we correct any possible systemic problems that could have created this situation,” Regent President Rob Doughty said. “Lobo athletes and supporters of Lobo athletics must have confidence that the athletic department’s financial house is in order and I am confident we will get there.”
Included in the attorney general’s letter on Thursday were questions about the failure to comply with records requests, specifically quoting at one point language used in the Journal’s IPRA request, which if properly fulfilled would have revealed the booster payments sooner.
UNM’s records custodian John Rodriguez on Thursday said the Journal’s request was made to his office, but then handed off to the athletics department to fulfill.
He said that “because the documents were provided by athletics and not through IPRA (his office), the redaction explanations weren’t given.”
He also said he has reopened the request.
Keller, meanwhile, provided the following statement on Thursday regarding his office’s audit: “New Mexican’s deserve to know how their money is being handled. Some of the practices that we’ve seen are deeply troubling, especially in light of the significant fiscal challenges that higher education institutions are facing.”