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New Mexico Delegates Make Plea For 2 National Monuments, No Violations Found In Navajo Housing Case

Aug 19, 2017

New Mexico Delegates Make Plea For 2 National Monuments – The Associated Press

The Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have issued another plea to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to keep intact two national monuments on a list of sites being reviewed by the federal government.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to Zinke on Monday, saying thousands of New Mexicans support the monuments. The deadline for Zinke to issue his recommendations is Thursday.

Some Hispanic ranchers have argued that the designations hurt families that have long fought the federal government over uses of historical land ties in colonial Spanish land grants.

Zinke visited New Mexico last month and held a series of private stakeholder meetings about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Rio Grande del Norte monument outside of Taos.

No Violations Found In Case Of Navajo Housing AuthorityThe Associated Press

Federal housing officials have found no legal or regulatory violations following an inquiry into the nation's largest Native American public housing authority.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued its final report on an investigation into the Navajo Housing Authority that was prompted by criticisms over management and the spending of federal grants. The investigation included visits earlier this year to housing projects in New Mexico and Arizona, interviews and a review of housing plans and contractor agreements.

Investigators did identify one concern regarding a project in Arizona in which the housing authority did not retain legal control of the site through its agreement with the developer in 2001. That lack of authority led to problems and the homes remaining vacant.

The report says the tribal agency has since developed new policies.

Authorities Eye Status Of Children Found At Sect – The Associated Press

Authorities investigating a New Mexico military-style Christian sect for child sexual abuse say they are trying to determine if the group brought children into the country illegally.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace tells The Associated Press on Tuesday that investigators found a number of children during a raid of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in remote Fence Lake, New Mexico.

During the Sunday raid, authorities arrested three members in connection with a child abuse and child sex abuse investigation. A former member was arrested in Truth or Consequence, New Mexico.

Mace says deputies also found weapons and silencers.

Deborah Green, Joshua Green and Stacey Miller face various charges ranging from child abuse, bribery and not reporting a birth. Peter Green faces 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child.

The group says all charges are false.

Oil Company Looks To Drill Under Carlsbad City LimitsThe Associated Press & The Current-Argus

A Carlsbad City Council decision will allow a New Mexico oil company to seek mineral rights from landowners and the city itself in order to drill underneath the city.

The Current-Argus reports the city council unanimously voted twice to allow Santo Petroleum to go door-to-door to lease mineral rights from owners, and to begin negotiations with the city for the mineral rights it owns.

The challenge for Santo is several surface-level land owners in Carlsbad do not own the mineral rights of their properties.

Santo Vice President Hanson Yates says the company has ongoing title research efforts to identify areas needed for the project, and who owns the rights.

City officials say they intend to negotiate a lease with Santo once all of the city's rights are officially identified.

Espanola Police Chief To Retire Following IndictmentThe Associated Press

Espanola Police Chief Matthew Vigil will be retiring next month following his recent indictment on charges from domestic incidents.

City of Espanola Human Resource Director Sally Baxter tells The Santa Fe New Mexican that Vigil's retirement is effective Sept. 1. She did not say why the 41-year-old was leaving the police force. Vigil did not respond to phone calls from the newspaper seeking comment.

Mayor Alice Lucero placed Vigil on administrative leave after he was indicted by a Taos grand jury last week. Vigil is accused of touching his wife in an "angry manner" and throwing a pair of shoes at his 13-year-old daughter. Attorney Alan Maestas, who is listed as Vigil's lawyer on court documents, was out of office Monday and could not be reached for questions.

New Mexico Supreme Court Defends Bail Reforms From LawsuitThe Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is defending new pretrial detention policies from legal challenge in federal court by the bail bonding industry.

In court filings released on Monday, state judicial officials called the lawsuit a desperate attempt by the bail bonding industry to regain control.

New Mexico has begun releasing nonviolent suspects before trial who might otherwise languish in jail only because they cannot afford bail. The policy changes respond to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November.

The Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and five state lawmakers maintain that suspects should have the right to pay bail without waiting on a judge's decision. State judicial officials want the lawsuit dismissed.

Similar bail bond reforms in New Jersey also are being challenged in federal court.

US Marshals To Open New Office In Northwestern New Mexico- The Associated Press

The U.S. Marshals Service says it plans to open an office in northwestern New Mexico.

Five years in the making, officials say the much-needed office in Farmington will provide a base for deputy marshals and members of the Southwest Investigative Fugitive Team as they cover the Four Corners region, where the borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet.

Each year, the team apprehends an average of 300 of the most violent fugitives wanted on federal and state charges in the region.

The team includes several partners, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Immigration and Customs to the FBI, New Mexico State Police and local law enforcement agencies.

Audit Finds New Mexico State Contracts Lack Competition- The Associated Press

An audit of New Mexico state procurement practices has found that roughly $6.5 billion in annual outside contracts bypass the competitive bidding process.

New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller says current exemptions to competitive bidding practices were designed to save the state time or money. But Keller says they have ended up reducing accountability in government and fairness to outside businesses.

A special audit released on Tuesday by Keller's office found that state agencies spent $56 million on sole-source contracts during the fiscal year ending in June 2016, including circumstances that are not permitted by law.

Auditors estimated another $105 million in contracts were exempt from competition under emergency provisions.

The report also highlights gaps in the tracking of political campaign contributions from contractors hired by state agencies.

Albuquerque Eyes Business For West Route 66- The Associated Press

Officials in Albuquerque want to attract businesses to the western part of the city's Route 66.

Business advocates and city officials will make the case for Albuquerque's Route 66 on Saturday at an event designed to draw attention to the opportunity along the historic road.

The move comes as city officials have faced criticism for the construction along Albuquerque's Route 66 for a new rapid-bus route.

New Mexico has the longest stretch of Route 66 passing through urban communities.

The project is one of many efforts in New Mexico that are aimed at revitalizing areas along Route 66.

Decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985, Route 66 went through eight states.

Most American Indian Tribes Opt Out Of Federal Death PenaltyThe Associated Press

American Indian tribes for decades have been able to opt into the death penalty for certain federal crimes on tribal land. Nearly all reject it.

Tribes and legal experts say the decision goes back to culture and tradition, past treatment of American Indians and fairness in the justice system.

For those on the Navajo Nation, the sexual assault and murder of an 11-year-old girl near Shiprock, New Mexico, has reignited the issue. Ashlynne Mike's mother has been urging the tribe to opt in to the death penalty, particularly for crimes that involve children.

But the Southwestern tribe has long objected to putting people to death. The culture teaches that all life is precious.

One federally recognized tribe, the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, has opted in.

Santa Fe Councilors Study Merging City, Regional Bus SystemsThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

A new analysis could lead to the merger of public transportation services in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the $150,000 study examined potential efficiencies and service improvements that could be created through coordination between the city's Santa Fe Trails bus system and the more rural North Central Regional Transit District.

Santa Fe city councilors and the regional transit board will review the analysis. The analysis considered the possible consolidation or integration of employees, vehicles, fueling systems and garages of both transit systems.

The report found the two systems' different approaches to route frequency and fare structures would present challenges, and the current modes of service do not lend themselves to an immediate combination of routes.

Former Sect Member Has Been Trying To Expose Group For Years- The Associated Press

A former member of a military-style Christian sect says that for years she's been trying to draw attention to the New Mexico group whose leader has been charged with dozens of counts of child sexual abuse.

Maura Alana Schmierer told The Associated Press on Monday that she had been interviewed by investigators recently about the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps.

Schmierer left the sect in the late 1980s. A 2012 National Geographic Television show "Escaped a Cult" documented Schmierer's experience with the sect. Schmierer sued the sect for mistreatment and forcing her to give up legal custody of three of her children. A judge in 1989 awarded her $1.08 million. But the group fled California and later resurfaced near El Paso, Texas, and then in western New Mexico.

KOAT-TV reported four sect members were arrested on Sunday. Sheriff Tony Mace told the station that his office began investigating the group last year after two members claimed they had escaped the commune.

New Mexico Parks, Monuments Gear Up For Solar Eclipse- The Associated Press

New Mexico might not be the perfect spot for viewing the solar eclipse but several state parks and national monuments are still planning viewing parties.

Monday's event will be the first total solar eclipse in 99 years to cross a coast-to-coast swath of the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Other parts will see only a partial eclipse.

The celestial event begins in New Mexico at 10:21 a.m. By 11:45 a.m., viewers here will be able to see nearly three-quarters of the sun blotted out by the moon.

Solar telescopes will be set up at El Malpais and El Morro national monuments in western New Mexico and at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque, the Cerrillos Hills State Park near Santa Fe and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad.

Albuquerque Police Chief Responds To Jeff Sessions' Threat- The Albuquerque Journal & The Associated Press

The Albuquerque police chief has responded to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' threat to not give the city federal resources due to its detainment practices.

Chief Gorden Eden wrote in a letter to Sessions that the city plans to participate in the U.S. Department of Justice program aimed at reducing crime, which Sessions threatened to exclude Albuquerque from, calling it a sanctuary city for people who are illegally in the country.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Friday that Eden denied being the chief of a sanctuary city.

Sessions called Albuquerque, Baltimore, Stockton and San Bernardino sanctuary cities and threatened to not let them participate in a new federal crime-fighting assistance program launched in June unless officials proved they were complying with federal directives regarding the detainment of foreign nationals arrested for crimes.

Española Police Chief On Leave After Child Abuse Indictment- The Santa Fe New Mexican The Rio Grande Sun & The Associated Press

The police chief of Española has been placed on leave following grand jury indictments on child abuse and witness intimidation.  Española Mayor Alice Lucero told The Santa Fe New Mexican  last week she placed Police Chief Matthew Vigil on leave following news of the indictments out of Taos.

The grand jury handed down the indictments Thursday in a state District Court in Taos. The Rio Grande Sun first reported the indictments in an online story Friday evening. The newspaper reported the 41-year-old Vigil threatened his wife and one of her children not to talk to police in connection with an alleged domestic violence case.

The records do not show any attorneys representing Vigil.

Vigil became Española police chief in April.

UNM Press Fights For Survival Amid Layoffs, Budget Cuts- The Albuquerque Journal & The Associated Press

The largest publisher of books in New Mexico is struggling for survival amid layoffs and budget cuts.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the University of New Mexico Press has in recent months cut its staff by about a quarter and made plans to reduce its annual output by about one-third.

UNM Press' director of seven years, John Byram, left last month after his contract was not renewed. University leaders are considering a plan to fold the press into the school's library division and outsource its warehouse functions.

UNM Press supporters say the university has not adequately funded the operation and has failed to acknowledge its value. It has released works by highly regarded novelists Tony Hillerman and Rudolfo Anaya.

UNM administrators say they are trying to ensure its long-term survival.

Independent Monitor Files Mixed Report On APD Reform- The Associated Press

The independent monitor overseeing a years long Albuquerque police reform effort found the department is "well below what could reasonably be expected at this point in the project," but has improved in reporting use-of-force incidents.

James Ginger, the monitor, filed a 41-page report on Friday that is intended to determine if the Albuquerque Police Department's efforts have achieved the goals outlined in a settlement between the Department of Justice and the city of Albuquerque.

The settlement was reached after a Department of Justice investigation found Albuquerque police had a pattern and practice of excessive force, which included numerous police shootings.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said the departments goal will continue to be "sustained, long-term compliance and reform in all areas of the" settlement agreement.

New Mexico Authorities Issue Warning To Drunken Drivers Associated Press

New Mexico will continue its push to crack down on drunken drivers through the Labor Day weekend as part of a national effort.

The campaign began Friday and will run concurrently with the state's 100 Days and Nights of Summer, in which drivers can expect more DWI checkpoints, saturation patrols and more officers on the road through the end of September.

Gov. Susana Martinez says getting drunken drivers off the road is a top priority.

So far this year, preliminary figures show there have been 76 DWI-related traffic deaths in New Mexico — down almost 30 percent from the same time last year.

Legislative analysts also report that state police officers increased DWI arrests by 80 percent during the fiscal year that ended in June, taking 2,931 suspected drunken drivers into custody.

New Mexico, Tribes To Share In Historic Preservation GrantsAssociated Press

New Mexico and nearly a dozen tribes in the state will share more than $660,000 in federal grants for historic preservation projects.

The funding is being awarded by the National Park Service to help communities protect historic places, traditions and cultures.

The grants require a 40 percent match from states, and 10 percent of state funding is passed through competitive subgrants to local governments. The tribal grants do not require a match.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache and the pueblos of Laguna and Zuni each received more than $31,000, while several other tribes received less. More than $341,000 was awarded to the state.

In all, federal officials say the National Park Service has funneled $58 million in historic preservation funding to states and tribes this year.

Albuquerque Police: DWI Suspect Tried To Breastfeed Her Baby Associated Press

Police say a female driver pulled over for suspected DWI in Albuquerque tried to breastfeed her child as officers were interviewing her.

They say Natasha Abrams failed field sobriety tests Thursday night. It was unclear Friday if she has a lawyer yet.

Albuquerque TV station KOB reports the woman's 5-month-old child was given to Abrams' parents after they arrived on the scene.

Police officers with a DWI unit were sent to a grocery store parking lot to assist a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy who had stopped an erratic driver and smelled alcohol on her breath.

They say Abrams was holding a child and about to begin breast feeding.

KOB also reported that Abrams told police she had a glass of wine with a friend earlier in the day.

New Mexico Health Care Provider Settles In Fraud Case- The Santa Fe New Mexican & The Associated Press

One of New Mexico's major health care providers has settled a secret court case that stemmed from allegations the company cheated the state's Medicaid program out of $300 million.

Former Lovelace Inc. senior executive Duke Rodriguez claims the company collected state gross receipts taxes from Medicaid for services provided to program recipients, even though Lovelace was exempt from paying gross receipts taxes to the state, meaning it pocketed the tax money from Medicaid.

The Attorney General's Office wrote to Lovelace, its parent company, Ardent Health Services, and former Lovelace parent Cigna. The letters said the companies had fraudulently collected at least $142.6 million in gross receipts taxes from the insurance program for low-income people, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The Attorney General's Office settled with the companies for less than the alleged amount.

Warrant Issued For A Suspect In Fatal Roswell Hotel Shooting Associated Press

An arrest warrant has been issued for a man accused of fatally shooting a woman during an argument inside a Roswell hotel room.

Roswell police filed the criminal complaint in court Friday and obtained an arrest warrant for 35-year-old Jeremy Hawkins, who remains at large.

They say Hawkins is facing an open count of murder and four other criminal counts in connection with the death of 31-year-old Ashley Sena of Roswell.

Sena is believed to have been Hawkins' girlfriend.

Her body was found Aug. 4 in a hotel room.

Police say Sena had been shot once in the face.

They say Hawkins cannot legally possess a firearm because he has a prior felony conviction for child abuse.

New Mexico Unemployment Rate Drops To 6.3 Percent In July Associated Press

New Mexico's unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in July, down from 6.4 percent in June and 6.8 percent in July 2016.

The state Department of Workforce Solutions' monthly report released Friday says New Mexico's economy added 8,400 jobs between July 2016 and July 2017 but lost 10,000 jobs between June and July of this year.

The department says the year-over-year jobs increase saw a loss of 3,100 government jobs partially offset a gain of 11,500 jobs in the private sector.

Education and health services added 3,700 jobs, construction employment increased by 2,300 jobs and professional and business services grew by 2,000 jobs.

US Rig Count Decreases By 3 This Week To 946 Associated Press

The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. decreased by three this week to 946.

A year ago, just 491 rigs were active.

Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes said Friday that 763 rigs sought oil and 182 explored for natural gas this week. One was listed as miscellaneous.

Among major oil- and gas-producing states, California gained two rigs and New Mexico increased by one.

North Dakota declined by two rigs while Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Utah were down by one apiece.

Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming were all unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981. It bottomed out in May of 2016 at 404.

Tennessee Site Marks Milestone With Shipment To US Nuke Dump Associated Press

A processing center for radioactive waste in Tennessee has made its first shipment in five years to the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository, marking another milestone as the U.S. gets its multibillion-dollar cleanup program back on track.

Cleanup of contaminated tools and other debris from decades of nuclear research and bomb-making at sites around the nation was sidelined in 2014 when a radiation release forced the closure of the southern New Mexico repository.

Shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant resumed in April following an expensive recovery effort and a major policy overhaul. Officials said that the initial pace would be slow and methodical.

Repository officials confirmed Friday they are now receiving between three and four shipments a week, most of them coming from the Idaho National Laboratory.

Santa Fe To Review Role In Events That Celebrate History Associated Press

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales wants the city to review its involvement in events that celebrate or recognize historic events and people.

His request for the city manager to compile a report follows a rally against racism that prompted hundreds of people to gather on Santa Fe's historic plaza in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The review will include the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe, in which northern New Mexico's Hispanic residents mark the reoccupation of the city by Spanish conquistador Don Diego De Vargas following a Native American revolt. The fiesta has been carried on for more than 300 years.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that long-running summer art markets and the annual burning of Zozobra will also be reviewed.

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