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Officials exchange accusations over MLK commission

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a tit-for-tat dispute, state Attorney General Hector Balderas took state Auditor Wayne Johnson to task in a Monday letter for not completing audits of the Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission.

Attorney General Hector Balderas

The letter, released to the Journal, was a direct response to a June 29 letter sent by Johnson to Balderas, claiming that the Office of the State Auditor was unable to complete audits of the MLK State Commission from 2014 on because documents required remained in the possession of the Office of the Attorney General.

In January 2016, investigators with the Attorney General’s Office seized the documents in connection with an investigation of fraud and embezzlement by the former leadership of the MLK Commission.

Balderas, a Democrat, said in his response that Johnson, a Republican, had failed to use digital copies of papers, as well as digital images of desktop files, that were readily available and provided to the new executive director of the MLK State Commission as far back as September 2016, as well as in the possession of the independent accounting firm hired to review the documents.

By not using those electronic files to complete the audits, Johnson was in violation of a number of statutory requirements, as well as accounting and financial reporting standards, Balderas said.

“I am concerned that recent public statements and actions by the OSA represent a pattern of failure to uphold these statutory duties and result in the public being misled,” Balderas said in the letter.

Further, Balderas wrote, “Neither the contracted audit firm, nor the current OSA administration reached out to the OAG” to inquire about documents that were claimed to be unavailable, nor did the state auditor inform the state attorney general about concerns regarding “missing financial documentation from an at-risk agency.”

Because of that, “the OSA has failed to ensure that the MLK Commission has been thoroughly examined and audited, which could assist law enforcement in detecting whether any further malfeasance has occurred.”

In a response to Balderas’ letter, Johnson told the Journal that one of his top priorities was “refusing to allow entities to evade audits for years, and also requiring audits of state entities that for many years have not been required to account for their spending of taxpayer dollars.”

The missed audits, he said, “span over several state auditors, prior to me taking office just six months ago.”

State Auditor Wayne Johnson

At the time of the raid on the offices of the MLK Commission, Tim Keller, now Albuquerque’s mayor, was the state auditor. Before that, Balderas was the state auditor.

Johnson also said that the MLK Commission audit was paused several years ago, in cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office.

“However, it’s puzzling that in one breath, the AG suggests using all options available for the OSA to seek missing documentation, then says those documents have already been provided to the (MLK) Commission,” Johnson said. “We will ask Commission leaders why they haven’t turned over all financial documents to their independent auditor, who reported in their 2014 audit they had not received sufficient documentation.”

The Journal was unable to reach anyone with the MLK State Commission on Monday for comment.

In January 2018, the MLK Commission’s former executive director, former financial auditor and the head of a nonprofit educational program that distributed funds on behalf of the commission were indicted on charges of embezzlement, fraud, larceny, conspiracy and racketeering. Those cases have not gone to trial.

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