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MLK Commission chief is target of investigation

FOR THE RECORD: Karen Montoya is the former chairwoman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, not the current chairwoman as reported in this¬†story published Wednesday about a state Attorney General’s Office investigation into the Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission. Valerie Espinoza is the current chairwoman of the PRC.

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

The executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission, Kimberly Greene, is under investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office for possibly embezzling thousands of dollars using a nonprofit charged with disbursing funds on behalf of the commission.

That information was disclosed in five search warrants made public Wednesday by the AG’s Office, whose investigators on Tuesday combed through the offices of the MLK Commission, located in the African American Performing Arts Center at Expo New Mexico.

According to the warrants, the nonprofit eRead, which provides education and technology programs to students and the community, holds and disburses some funds for the MLK Commission “at the sole direction/authorization of Kimberly Greene.” A portion of those funds are allocations from the state of New Mexico.

On July 7, 2015, Greene told eRead executive director Charles Countee to cut her a check for $16,000. Countee, the warrants said, told investigators he assumed the money was for “MLKC related activities.”

Greene, 42, was subsequently unable to produce receipts of expenditures for the $16,000 when requested by then-Commission Vice Chairwoman Karen Montoya, now acting chairwoman, according to the warrants.

Investigators also believe that an invoice from eRead issued to the MLK Commission on June 12, 2015, for $51,708, for eRead’s hosting of the annual “You Are the Dream Youth Conference,” was forged by Greene. Countee told investigators that eRead did host the conference, but the space was donated and there was no charge to the commission, the warrants said.

While eRead is listed as a vendor for the state of New Mexico, according to the warrants, “there is no known contract allowing for eRead to perform these functions on behalf of the MLKC.”

The Journal sought comment from Countee and Greene on Wednesday. Countee did not return a call, and Greene’s cellphone was again answered by a recorded message saying her voice mail had not been set up. A woman answering the phone at the offices of the MLK State Commission said it was business as usual Wednesday, and that Greene, whose annual salary is about $55,000, was “unavailable.”

Last month, Greene approached the state Board of Finance and asked for emergency funding to offset overspending by the MLK Commission of nearly $100,000, part of which was for a no-bid contract with eRead. Under intense questioning from board members, Greene said she gave the no-bid contract to eRead at the urging of Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, for whom the African American Performing Arts Center is named. Greene had approached Williams Stapleton asking her to sponsor legislation to pay for an ACT/SAT preparation program.

On Tuesday, Williams Stapleton denied that she requested the no bid contract be given to eRead. It was Greene who approached her in 2014 with representatives of eRead asking for the funding.

“She was already working with the eRead program and had been working with them for many years. She and I never discussed a contract. She told me where she wanted the funds to go,” she said.

In addition to a search of the MLK Commission offices, AG investigators also served warrants at the home of Greene; the Albuquerque offices of Educational, Research, Evaluation and Design Inc., (eRead); the Bank of the West, where eRead keeps accounts holding MLK Commission funds; and US Eagle Federal Credit Union, where Greene keeps accounts.

Among the items taken by investigators serving the warrants were computers, flash drives, memory cards, external hard drives, cellphones, and a host of handwritten and printed financial documents, including bank invoices and statements, expenditure documents, paycheck and payroll reports, lease agreements, budget and legislative appropriation requests, audit paperwork, and travel and employee records.

The investigation was triggered after Countee approached MLK Commissioner Tim Eichenberg earlier this month and gave him a stack of documents. Eichenberg, who is also the state treasurer, told the Journal on Tuesday that he was so concerned about what he saw in the documents that he brought them to the attention of Montoya, who is also a member of the Public Regulation Commission. Montoya contacted the AG’s Office and requested an investigation.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a statement Wednesday saying: “This is an active investigation and we will update the public with a final determination as soon as possible.”

The agency, with a $337,000 budget, is also subject to yearly audits. Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman for state Auditor Tim Keller, said their office has an open investigation into the MLK Commission because it has not submitted an audit in more than two years.

The mission of the MLK Commission is to promote King’s philosophy of nonviolence, unity and opportunity for all. The commission also conducts the MLK Annual Youth Conference and Youth Leadership Conference and organizes events around Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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