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AG asked to investigate agency’s spending

SANTA FE – The acting secretary of the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department has asked Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate possible criminal activity on the part of an organization with a state contract to provide various services for roughly 70,000 elderly New Mexicans.

The letter to the Attorney General’s Office from acting Secretary KyKy Knowles was sent earlier this week, after a special audit found that the organization improperly spent $118,395 in taxpayer dollars on fancy meals, alcohol, hotels and employee bonuses over a 2½-year period.

Specifically, Knowles said the organization’s decision to give incentive-based bonuses to some of its employees might violate both the state Constitution and the group’s contract with the state.

However, both the executive director and board chairman of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, a Santa Fe-based consortium of counties, has said there was nothing improper about the spending in question.

The development district’s executive director, Tim Armer, recently told the Journal the merit-based staff bonuses were paid out with savings from vacant positions and unused overtime.

In addition, state Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said Wednesday that the money used for a staff team-building retreat and other expenditures came from funds earmarked for operational expenses, not senior services.

“We honestly feel that’s our money,” Trujillo said.

He also questioned state Auditor Wayne Johnson’s authority to order a special audit into the organization’s finances, and described the Aging and Long-Term Services Department as an agency in “turmoil” after recent high staff turnover rates.

The special audit was conducted by an outside auditing firm and focused on the finances of the development district in regard to its work running the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, which has a $20 million annual contract to work with providers in most of New Mexico, but not in Bernalillo County.

In addition to the questionable spending, the audit also found some internal controls to be lacking, such as giving too much check-signing authority to one top executive at the economic development district.

An Attorney General’s office spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the agency had received the referral and said the matter is under review.

Meanwhile, the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging is one of four state management agencies that oversee providers of transportation, home-delivered meals and job-finding assistance for thousands of seniors. The program’s money comes from a mix of state and federal dollars.