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UNM law student group eyes reforms

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While the investigation continues into whether a bank account at the University of New Mexico Law School was used as a slush fund by at least one Student Bar Association member last year, current student leaders have distanced themselves from their predecessors and the financial practices under scrutiny.

To help get their financial house in order, they have even canceled the annual SBA Halloween party.

The association has an official UNM Banner Account, which is managed by the university. However, UNM’s Internal Audit Department has uncovered an unauthorized, off-campus account that was used to pay for such things as manicures, bar tabs, retail store bills, utilities and even law school ethics exams during the 2012-13 academic year. That account is now closed.

Officials said findings of the investigation will be forwarded to the campus police department and the state auditor when it is completed.

In an email to fellow law students after news of the investigation broke this week, Daniel Apodaca, the current SBA president, outlined steps the organization is taking “to increase financial transparency and accountability.”

“No member of the current SBA Board is suspected of malfeasance in this matter or had any insight as to the actions of the former Board member,” he continued. “The current Board is making every effort to provide transparency with this issue and is making strides to make sure that this sort of issue never happens again.”

Ian Michael Alden, the association’s new treasurer, told law students in a separate email that the organization started the academic year with a deficit of just over $10,700 in its UNM Banner Account and a balance of nearly $800 in the alternative account. The balance in the Banner Account is now up to $3,520.

Alden said the negative balance resulted from the SBA paying most of its bills from that account, while revenues it gets from fundraising efforts were diverted into the alternative account. Most of the association’s revenues come from those fundraisers.

The association also gets a portion of student fees, but that money is deposited automatically into the Banner Account so that money was used for legitimate purposes such as travel, student organization events and copying fees.

In his message, Apodaca said the group has started several financial reforms.

“All revenue and expenses, regardless of size or significance, are logged in a spreadsheet available to the public upon request. . . . The way in which the SBA approves expenses and distributes money has been revised and clarified to ensure proper oversight of SBA expenditures.

As for the Halloween party, it was cancelled as “an act of ‘tightening the belt’, as it were, to ensure that student funds are being spent in ways that best benefit the students. Priority funding is being given to student travel reimbursements and student organization requests.”

Noting the “legitimate concerns that the student body and general public have about the proper use of funds and, particularly, those funds generated by student fees,” the student leader said the executive board is “hard at work to institute meaningful reforms to provide transparency and financial accountability.”