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UNM Foundation sued again over records access

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico Foundation is being sued again over public records transparency issues.

Albuquerque attorney James Joseph Owens filed a lawsuit on June 20 in 2nd Judicial District Court against the University of New Mexico Foundation and UNM.

Owens claims the organizations unreasonably denied his three Inspection of Public Records Act requests this year for communications relating to a 2015 UNM Athletic Department trip to Scotland.

Owens requested records of communication between the UNM Foundation and six individuals: former UNM athletic director Paul Krebs, former Lobo Club executive director Kole McKamey, former UNM men’s basketball coach Craig Neal, and private donors Darren Davis, Rollie Gardenhire and Paul Gibson.

“The six individuals named above were selected without public acknowledgement to receive a UNM Athletic Department funded golf trip,” the lawsuit states. “The University allegedly donated the cost of the trip to each of the six individuals named above, under the auspices of allowing important donors to rub elbows with UNM Athletic Department officials. The stated purpose was to generate monetary donations to the University of New Mexico and or the UNM Athletic Department. The University or its related entities paid approximately $64,000 for a St. Andrew’s golf junket.”

Krebs now faces criminal charges of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering over the 2015 golf trip.

According to Owens, UNMF chief counsel Pat Allen emailed him on April 17 in response to the IPRA requests, stating the “information sought was proprietary and would not be forthcoming.”

UNM Foundation spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said Friday that the foundation could not comment on pending litigation.

“An important public interest is at issue, and the public is entitled to know what, if any efforts were made, to have the individuals repay the funds advanced,” Owens states in the lawsuit. “The IPRA sought to discover whether the golf junket resulted in repayment or contributions to UNM.”

The University of New Mexico Foundation was also sued in 2017 by independent journalist Daniel Libit because of a denied public records request. UNMF cited the “need to protect donor information” as reason for the denial. In that lawsuit, state District Judge Nancy Franchini ruled that the foundation must comply with IPRA because it acts on behalf of a public agency. In July 2018, the foundation said it would appeal Franchini’s decision.

Owens said the private donor protection defense is not “equitable in this instance, where individuals have received monetary benefits from the UNMF or its Athletic Department for travel in violation of the anti-donation clause.”

The lawsuit petitions the court to mandate UNMF immediately produce documents from the three IPRA requests and pay statutory fines that have accrued since each IPRA request was filed. The complaint states that Owens requested the records on Feb. 12, April 1 and May 30 of this year.