The Associated Press

kevinspencer via Flickr

State officials say two of the behavioral health providers under investigation for possible fraud have agreed to pay New Mexico more than $4 million for the overbilling of services.

The Human Services Department announced Monday it is recovering $4 million from Presbyterian Medical Services and $240,000 from Youth Development Inc. in Albuquerque.

The settlements will clear the way for the state to restore Medicaid payments to the companies for mental health and substance abuse services they provide to needy New Mexicans.

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments on same-sex marriage cases on October 23, 2013. It was the first time the state's highest court allowed a live broadcast of their proceedings. KUNM broadcast the oral arguments live. You can listen to them here. 

During the first hour, the justices heard arguments relating to the state's marriage statutes.

The second hour of arguments examined the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

Lauri Rantala / Flickr

Curry County commissioners are considering a ban on electronic cigarettes.

The proposal is set to go before the commission early next month.

The Clovis News Journal reports that the proposal unveiled this week has drawn mixed reactions.

County manager Lance Pyle says it mirrors other bans adopted by cities and counties in the state. Violations would come with a $500 fine.

Kristian Høgsberg / Flickr

A cloud of habanero chile powder sent one woman to a hospital and hazardous materials crews to a Las Cruces industrial park.

Workers called 911 around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday complaining of irritated eyes, sore throats and bloody noses.

New Mexico State Police say a hazmat crew and emergency personnel responded to the scene.

Officials determined that habanero chile particles lingered in the cold evening air after employees finished their work, then went into ventilation systems.

A company in the Santa Teresa Industrial Park grinds chile pods into powder.

cabq.gov

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry was elected today for a second term. The Republican won more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff election with one of two challengers.

Berry had 73 percent of the vote among early and absentee ballots Tuesday and 68 percent of the total vote.

Former Deputy City Attorney Pete Dinelli had 27 percent of the vote and retired police sergeant Paul Heh had 3 percent.

Early and absentee votes represent about 40 percent of the total number of votes estimated to have been cast in this year's election.

by Andrew Goff

A former trustee of a New Mexico border town says his former police chief collected more than $2,000 a month from the Juarez Cartel and allowed its members to use the city's police cruisers.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that former Columbus village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez testified Wednesday that former Police Chief Angelo Vega received $1,500 each time he allowed the cartel members to use village vehicles, including police cruisers, for drug and guns smuggling.

Gutierrez faces 10 years in federal prison for his guilty plea linked to a border gun smuggling ring.

The Albuquerque Police Department

A former Albuquerque police officer charged with beating a surrendering man has been found not guilty.

A jury acquitted Connor Rice of battery and aggravated battery on Thursday after deliberating more than three hours.

Connor Rice testified Wednesday that he was reacting to the suspect's efforts to resist arrest when he hit the 20-year-old in May 2012. Some of  the incident, including video of another officer putting his boot on the suspect's head, was recorded on the officer's lapel camera.  

Alegri

Some New Mexico teachers are bristling at a new state program that offers a $5,000 stipend for those who agree to transfer from top-graded schools to low-graded ones.

Teacher union officials say the initiative by Gov. Susana Martinez's administration will be both ineffective and disruptive.

Meanwhile, an administration spokesman says the program is about helping students in struggling schools.

National Weather Service

Some areas of storm-weary New Mexico may see more severe weather.

The National Weather Service says northwestern and north central New Mexico could see "strong to severe" thunderstorms Sunday.

Forecasters say the storms could produce severe hail and strong wind gust up to 58 mph.

The storm comes as a strong low pressure system quickly advances toward the Four Corners region, including parts of Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

The State Land Office has approved a proposal for a large wind energy project in central New Mexico that officials say could generate as much as $40 million for the state over 45 years.

Land Commissioner Ray Powell announced Thursday that Iberdrola Renewables of Portland, Ore., has won the right to lease nearly 34,000 acres of state trust land in Torrance County to develop a wind farm that ultimately could generate about 1,000 megawatts of electricity. That's enough to supply up to 400,000 homes.

karenandbrademerson via Flickr

Two of New Mexico's popular tourist destinations are open again as many parts of the state continue to clean up after heavy rains, unruly runoff and flooding.

Officials say there's still much work to be done in the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico, but the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument reopened Thursday and a few dozen visitors have already stopped by.

Monument volunteer Dave Young says the dwellings are accessible, but the visitors' center remains closed while officials inspect the safety of a bridge that leads to the building.

Heavy Rain Helping Out Some Farmers

Sep 18, 2013

The recent heavy rain and flooding in New Mexico were at least helpful to some farmers.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that last week's flood waters that flowed into Brantley Reservoir, where the Carlsbad Irrigation District stores water to send to farmers, turned out to be a boost.

Some Carlsbad-area will get an additional four-tenths of an acre-foot per acre for farmers in the Carlsbad Irrigation District.

Rrrodrigo via Flickr

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has filed a lawsuit seeking public disclosure of an audit that identified potential overbillings and fraud by providers of mental health and substance abuse services.

The Human Services Department has frozen payments to more than a dozen behavioral health providers because of the fraud allegations.

National Weather Service

UPDATE 12p: A planned emergency airlift of food, water and other supplies for a tiny New Mexico town isolated after weekend flooding has been called off.

New Mexico Department of Homeland Security spokesman Estevan Lujan said Tuesday that state authorities and the National Guard will deliver supplies by foot to residents of the privately run ghost town of Mogollon. Lujan says there was not enough space to land a helicopter.

A New Mexico man convicted of conspiring to steal money intended for voter education efforts has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A federal judge also ordered Joseph Kupfer of Rio Rancho to pay restitution to the state and the Internal Revenue Service.

The 50-year-old Kupfer and 65-year-old Armando C. Gutierrez of Corpus Christi, Texas, were found guilty in January.

Prosecutors say the two men conspired to get more money than they were due out of New Mexico's Help America Vote Act funds.

The indictment charged $2.5 million in fraud.

Glen Thamert

UPDATE 9/16 6p: New Mexicans remain on high alert to possible flash flooding as rain is expected to continue during the next few days.

Gov. Susana Martinez is traveling to three communities to inspect damage from flooding since last week, when heavy rains inundated what had been a drought-parched state.

Among her stops is Santa Rosa in eastern New Mexico, where officials are seeking a disaster declaration because flooding washed out roads and buckled pavement.

Wikimedia Commons

New Mexico's highest court has scheduled a hearing next month in a case that could resolve whether gay marriage is legal in the state.

The state Supreme Court on Friday set the hearing for Oct. 23.

The five-member court took the step a day after New Mexico's counties and county clerks statewide filed a petition asking the justices to decide whether a judge in Albuquerque was correct in declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Kaiser Family Health Foundation

A new national study says the cost of medical plans available through New Mexico's health insurance exchange likely will be lower than in many other states.

New Mexico's top insurance regulator said uninsured individuals also will find more insurance options through the exchange than currently are available in the private market.

Insurance Superintendent John Franchini said people who qualify for federal subsidies can expect to buy their insurance through the exchange at costs lower than current market rates.

Wikimedia Commons

  A group representing New Mexico counties is asking the state's highest court to decide whether gay marriage is legal.

The Association of Counties and clerks statewide filed a petition Thursday with the state Supreme Court. They're seeking clarity in a legal dispute that's been rapidly changing in the past two weeks since a county clerk in southern New Mexico independently began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Since then, seven other counties followed — some because of court orders.

Tim Brown Architecture via Flickr

Federal land managers have proposed limiting the number of parcels to be leased for oil and natural gas development near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday released its environmental assessment for the lease sale that will take place in January. The agency has proposed cutting the number of available parcels to just four.

The industry initially nominated 38 parcels totaling more than 19,000 acres. One of those was less than a quarter-mile from the park's boundary.

Lightning_Todd via Flickr

The New Mexico Game Commission has voted again in opposition of federal legislation that calls for transferring management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service.

The commission voted unanimously Thursday after taking public comment during its meeting in Grants.

Its initial vote in May was challenged by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. The group accused the commission of violating New Mexico's open meeting law by not including the issue on the agenda.

quinn.anya via Flickr

Investigators are looking into challenges that American Indian tribes face in administering federal housing funds.

Representatives from the U.S. Government Accountability Office are visiting the Navajo Nation this week as part of the study mandated by Congress.

American Indian tribes or their designated housing entities receive some $650 million a year in Indian Housing Block Grant funding under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

SalFalko via Flickr

Behavioral health providers under investigation for possible overbillings, mismanagement and fraud have lost an appeal of a court ruling that allows New Mexico to continue to withhold Medicaid payments.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Monday dismissed the appeal by eight nonprofit providers.

A federal judge in Albuquerque last month denied the providers' request for an order stopping the state from freezing payments for mental health and substance abuse services.

Denisse ~*~ via Flickr

  New Mexico may open as a museum the site of the 1980 bloody prison riot.

State Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel says strong public interest in tours of the closed "Old Main" prison offered during last year's New Mexico centennial celebration sparked the idea for a permanent museum.

Old Main was closed in 1988, eight years after the February 1980 riot in which inmates killed 33 fellow prisoners in a violent clash that included beheadings, amputations and burned bodies.

nicodeux via Flickr

UPDATE 8/5 4p:  A federal judge in Albuquerque has postponed until Thursday a bond hearing for the animal rights groups who won a temporary ban on domestic horse slaughter.

The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and others on Friday won a temporary restraining order that blocked plans by companies in Roswell, N.M., and Sigourney, Iowa, to start slaughtering horses this week.

Another Severe Storm Hammers Albuquerque

Jul 27, 2013
Elaine Baumgartel

  Residents are cleaning up and authorities are working to fix traffic lights after a powerful storm swept through the Albuquerque area.

The storm Friday evening brought heavy rain and strong winds that caused power outages to thousands and sparked street flooding.

Albuquerque Emergency Management officials urged residents early Saturday to avoid major roadways and thoroughfares as worker clean up the aftermath.

Albuquerque police say the severe weather knocked down trees, utility lines and flooding roadways.

Funeral arrangements have been announced for David F. Cargo, who became the youngest governor of New Mexico and served two terms in the turbulent 1960s.

Cargo died last Friday at age 84. His family says he had been in an Albuquerque nursing home for about two years following a stroke.

The maverick Republican served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1963 to 1966 before being elected governor at age 37.

Cargo's body will lie in state in the New Mexico State Capitol's rotunda in Santa Fe from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, followed by a memorial service.

Authorities have ordered the evacuation of the top floor of the New Mexico Capitol after a suspicious substance was found in mail sent to the governor's office.

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez says front office staff was processing and sorting incoming mail Monday afternoon when a white powdery substance came out of one of the envelopes.

Spokesman Enrique Knell says staff immediately isolated themselves, then called the Department of Public Safety and State Homeland Security Department for directions on how to respond.

Crews working to tame two wildfires in New Mexico hope to begin flood prevention measures after recent favorable weather helped slow the blazes' growth.

Officials said Thursday that the Jaroso Fire in the steep canyons of the Pecos Wilderness in the Santa Fe National Forest has increased the potential for flash flooding, mud and debris flows as monsoon season looms. Heavy rains could impact several communities, homes, roads, and other infrastructures adjacent to and downstream from the burned area.

David F. Cargo, a maverick Republican who became the youngest governor of New Mexico and served two terms in the turbulent 1960s, has died at the age of 84.

Family members confirmed Cargo died early Friday at an Albuquerque hospital after falling ill the evening before.

Known as "Lonesome Dave," Cargo championed the film industry and established the first state film commission. He was an early advocate of a policy for apportioning legislative seats that has altered the political landscape over several decades.

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