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Donors, UNM at odds about suites after payment list raises questions

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A former Board of Regents president.

A former Lobo basketball star who made millions in the NBA.

A local businessman who himself once pledged millions to the University of New Mexico to put his company’s name on the Pit.

Those were among the Lobo athletics boosters whose names or companies showed up on a list released by UNM this week showing $432,000 has gone uncollected for the use of suites inside the Pit since the 2010-11 basketball season.

But the list only seems to have created more questions than answers about the financial management practices of UNM athletics and the Lobo Club, the department’s independent fundraising arm tasked with selling and collecting money for the suites in the 51-year-old basketball venue recently renamed Dreamstyle Arena.

Several donors who appeared on the list and were contacted Friday by the Journal either dispute owing any money, say they were never billed for the suites, or have just found out in the past week that UNM claims they owe money.

That includes one of the Lobos’ highest-profile boosters, whose account of the matter is decidedly different than athletics’ chief fundraising executive.

Businessman Steve Chavez said he believes that the $67,500 balance attributed to his company, Integrated Control Systems, for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, is a mistake. He said he was never invoiced and that he made his case to UNM last week. According to a written statement ICS provided to the Journal on Friday, Lobo Club Executive Director Kole McKamey notified Chavez of the alleged debt on July 7 and “suggested” if it was paid, the company would not appear on documents the school was preparing to release to KRQE-TV in response to a public records request.

“Mr. Chavez let The Lobo Club and UNM Athletics Department know that he believed the amounts were listed in error. He also let The Lobo Club know that if they felt an invoice needed to be paid to send an invoice to his Accounts Payable department for review. Mr. McKamey asked if he could back date the invoice, Mr. Chavez said no because it would not be accurate, since the University is just now reaching out to him about a matter that should have been resolved in 2014,” the statement said. “The University responded to the IPRA request, including the ICS name, despite being aware that the validity of these charges were still in question.”

McKamey denies telling Chavez his name could be removed; “rather, I indicated that once Mr. Chavez made payment, a notation would be added to the list to reflect his payment,” McKamey said in a statement. He also denied asking to send a backdated invoice.

UNM spokeswoman Dianne Anderson said the state public records law “requires that we provide existing records and information responsive to request, regardless of whether the content of a record is in dispute.”

Chavez also owns former Pit naming rights sponsor WisePies Pizza & Salad and says that deal entitled him to a suite and game tickets. That benefit is not outlined in the WisePies naming rights agreement released publicly upon its December 2014 execution but was apparently covered by a separate agreement, according to Chavez’s spokesman.

A spokesman for the UNM Foundation, which houses the Lobo Club, told the Journal that the suite attributed to ICS on the list was different and not included.

“The suite identified on the list is a different suite, leased by Integrated Control Systems and not subject to the WisePies sponsorship,” Mario Lara of the foundation said in a written statement.

UNM acknowledges that it, and more specifically the Lobo Club, has just started notifying some donors of what they have recently discovered through an audit.

Both the state auditor and Attorney General’s Office have launched separate investigations into the athletics department since news broke in May about a 2015 golf junket to Scotland in which at least $64,000 in public money was used to pay for UNM employees and three boosters of the program.

Interim athletic director Janice Ruggiero said work on figuring out how the matter went unchecked for so long continues.

“A concerted effort is underway to notify suite holders to address the outstanding balances,” Ruggiero said. “After only a few days, a number have paid in full, and UNM plans to update the status of the balance sheet as soon as next week.”

At a news conference Monday, Ruggiero announced the ongoing audit and Inspection of Public Records Act requests from journalists helped bring the matter to her attention. She also said that as of Monday, at least two donors had already paid, including former UNM Board of Regents President Jack Fortner, and the balance remaining then was $388,000.

The amount of the remaining balance is unclear.

Fortner said he was first contacted July 5 by McKamey, who said records show he owed $13,864.

“I thought he was kidding,” said Fortner, who had a suite contract from the 2010-11 to 2014-15 seasons. “I said if I didn’t pay, it was because I didn’t get an invoice. It goes through our offices.”

Fortner shared with the Journal an email exchange with McKamey that set up Monday morning’s payment but also makes clear that he still had some doubts about it.

“I still can’t figure this out yet,” Fortner wrote to McKamey. “I don’t know if perhaps I was never sent an invoice, if I actually paid. Your call was the first I heard that I hadn’t paid for that year. In any event, I will give you my credit card information to go ahead and pay, and if you or I find evidence of prior payment I can just get a refund.”

The list also claims the UNM Board of Regents itself owes $30,000 from 2015 and 2016. Anderson said the regents have purchased a suite at a cost of $30,000 for each of the past two basketball seasons, transferring money from the school’s central reserves to the foundation, which makes the payment.

Regents President Rob Doughty did not respond to Journal messages Friday.

Rudy Chavez, a local attorney and Lobo Club member, is representing former Lobo basketball star Kenny Thomas, who UNM says owes $40,000 for a suite in 2014-15.

The problem, the attorney says, is that Thomas never signed a contract for the suite that season after having paid, in full, for use in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Five games into the 2014-15 season, when Thomas had not used the suite he says he never signed up for, UNM stopped issuing tickets to the account.

“This goes back to when Paul (Krebs, who retired as Athletic Director in June) and Lee De Leon (former Lobo Club Executive Director) approached Kenny about maybe putting his name on the Pit for about $7 million,” Rudy Chavez said. “Kenny wasn’t able to do it and later a deal they had been negotiating to sell (Thomas’ owned) bottled water and his clothing line in the Pit fell through and Kenny just decided he wasn’t going to do the suite anymore for that third year. Nothing was ever in writing. There’s no contract for it. He wasn’t there.”

Rudy Chavez said that while this matter frustrates him and Thomas, he’s optimistic it will be resolved and delivered a letter to McKamey on Thursday detailing how they hope to settle the matter.

Nestor Romero, who UNM says owes $80,002 from several seasons, is out of the country but told the Journal in a text he paid in 2014 to Lobo Sports Properties, a private company that handles UNM athletics’ licensing, what he thought was his balance. He wants to see what that money was for if not the suites and plans to meet with Ruggiero next week when he returns to Albuquerque.

The list also indicates attorney and UNM alumnus B.J. Crow owed $21,250 for a suite purchased in fiscal year 2012. Crow told the Journal he had no inkling of the balance, never saw an invoice and continued to maintain a suite for years. He said he paid the balance Thursday and would have done it much sooner — had he known.

“Hell, I went for another three years renting the suite and they never told me I owed that money (from 2012),” he said.

Albuquerque businessman Jerry Mosher said he was “blindsided” by the assertion that his Consolidated Solar Technologies still owed UNM $21,000 from 2015. He suspects a CST payment might have mistakenly been credited to another company with which he once shared a suite, and is currently investigating.

“If we end up in error, we will do whatever is right, and I am sure UNM will do the same,” he said in an email.