Suit Alleges Massive Real Estate Contract, Mortgage Scheme – The Associated Press
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is accusing an Albuquerque-area businessman of engaging in a massive real estate contract and mortgage scheme.
The suit filed Thursday in state District Court in Albuquerque accuses Jesus Cano and a limited-liability company known as JSS of Albuquerque LLC of preying upon hundreds of victims in Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities in Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties.
According to the suit, the defendants engaged in fraud to obtain thousands of dollars from victims by making "empty promises" about home ownership.
The lawsuit seeks restitution to victims, payment of attorney's fees to the state and a court order barring Cano from offering real estate and mortgage services.
Cano did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Interior Secretary Jewell Visits Acoma Pueblo – The Associated Press
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has completed what's likely her final trip as a cabinet head to Indian Country, with a visit to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.
Jewell toured the nearly thousand-year-old village atop a mesa, as she and other Obama administration officials aim to appeal to the French government and antiquities collectors to curb the trafficking and auctioning off of tribes' ceremonial items.
French authorities this year halted the auctioning of an Acoma shield, which remains in Paris, after a broad push by tribal leaders and the Interior and State departments to block the sale.
Jewell also visited a school that's expected to transfer from federal to tribal management next year under an Obama administration initiative that aimed to place more Bureau of Indian Education schools to the local control of tribes.
PNM Asks State Regulators For 14 % Average System Rate Hike – Associated Press
New Mexico's largest electric provider has asked state regulators for an average system rate increase of 14 percent.
Public Service Company of New Mexico's application with the state Public Regulation Commission seeks an increase of $99.2 million and a return on equity of 10.125 percent.
The overall 14.3 percent rate increase would be spread out over two years to soften the impact for customers.
The rate increase would mean all classes of customers would see an average 11 percent rise in their monthly bills.
Residential customers would see an average increase of 13 percent.
PNM says it needs to recoup the millions of dollars being spent on improvements to the grid and on pollution controls at a pair of coal-fired power plants in northwestern New Mexico.
New Mexico Looks to Public Schools to Fix Budget Deficits – The Associated Press
The chairman of an influential legislative budget committee says state funding for public education in New Mexico is almost certain to be reduced further to offset plunging state revenues.
Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith said Thursday that the Legislature cannot leave out potential cuts to public schools as it wards off budget deficits.
Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is urging lawmakers to hold steady operational funding for educational next fiscal year, after a recent 2.5 percent budget cut. The administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is proposing to tap cash balances at school districts instead. Public education accounts for 43 percent of state general fund spending.
New Mexico's oil-dependent economy is reeling from a downturn in energy markets.
Lawmakers say a possible moratorium on new charter schools might save money.
State High Court Refuses to Intervene in Representation Dispute – The Associated Press
The New Mexico Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in a state budget-related issue involving representation in criminal cases.
The district attorney for Lea County had asked the high court to intervene after public defenders refused to take on additional indigent clients because of their swelling caseloads.
A District Court judge last week held the state's chief public defender in contempt of court.
However, the Supreme Court has denied the district attorney's request that public defenders be ordered to accept additional cases.
The court's brief order Thursday says the case isn't "ripe" for consideration.
Two More Hantavirus Cases Reported in NW New Mexico – The Associated Press
The state Department of Health reports two additional confirmed cases of hantavirus, both from McKinley County in northwestern New Mexico.
Hantavirus infection is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva.
The department says the additional cases involving a 59-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman who are hospitalized are the seventh and eighth cases in in New Mexico in 2016.
There have been four New Mexico fatalities from hantavirus this year. Those involved people from McKinley, San Juan, Cibola and Torrance counties. Two patients from Santa Fe and Sandoval counties recovered.
People contract hantavirus by inhaling the virus, often when they are cleaning up rodent droppings and nesting materials.
The department says it's important to close up any openings in homes so mice can't enter.
Political Candidates, Committees Tally Election Spending – Associated Press
New Mexico political candidates and committees are disclosing how much money they spent in the final days of November election contests that gave Democrats majority control of the Legislature and the Secretary of State's Office.
The deadline for campaign finance statements arrives Thursday evening and will provide the public with final tallies for political fundraising and expenditures during the 2016 election cycle.
Political committees in particular unleashed a stream of negative advertising this year in the most competitive legislative races. Two candidates for Secretary of State spend more than $1 million, as Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver defeated Republican Nora Espinoza to become the state's top elections regulator.
Campaign contribution limits are increasing slightly. Individuals can give up to $5,500 per election toward statewide candidates and $2,500 to legislative candidates.
Interior Secretary Jewell Visits Acoma Pueblo – Associated Press
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell plans to visit Acoma Pueblo on Thursday to begin a tour aimed at highlighting federal initiatives over the past eight years for public land, wildlife management and government relationships with Native American tribes.
Jewell is expected to tour Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, where the Obama administration placed 59,000 acres of land into trust for the tribe — a move that was part of one of the president's policy priorities for Indian Country. In the past eight years, more than 500,000 acres of land were placed into trust for tribes.
Jewell also will visit Sky City School, a federally run school that she says is transferring to the control of the tribe.
The Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Education has aimed in recent years to give tribes more oversight of the schools in their area.
Federal Nuclear Waste Dump Has More to do Before Reopening – The Associated Press
The U.S. Energy Department and its contractors have been working for nearly three years to reopen the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository following a radiation release, but more needs to be done.
A preliminary review of the readiness effort at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant identified 21 issues that need to be resolved before operations can start at the southern New Mexico facility.
Officials also highlighted another 15 issues that can be addressed as waste disposal work resumes.
State officials are also inspecting the repository this week and must sign off before any work begins.
The repository has been shuttered since February 2014, when a drum of inappropriately packed waste burst thanks to a chemical reaction. The radiation release contaminated a significant portion of the disposal area.
New Mexico AG Considering Run For Governor – Associated Press
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is weighing a run for the state's highest office.
Spokeswoman and political strategist Caroline Buerkle confirmed Wednesday that the Democrat is seriously considering a run for governor given his deep concerns about the future of the state.
She says he's expected to make a determination in the near future.
Balderas' announcement came hours after New Mexico's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Tom Udall, said he had decided not to run for the office but rather stay in Washington.
Police: Man Who Killed 3 Kids Had Stalking, Assault Record - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press
Court records show a man who shot and killed three children and critically wounded their mother had a history that included cases of stalking and assault.
George Daniel Wechsler pleaded no contest in 2003 to misdemeanor stalking and petty misdemeanor assault against a family member. He was also arrested in 2004 for reckless driving, but police say he had no felony record.
Authorities say Wechsler on Monday broke into the home of his 36-year-old ex-girlfriend and waited for her and her children to get home. He then shot them before turning the gun on himself.
The mother has not been identified and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Police have said the two had a brief relationship and that Wechsler offered to give Christmas gifts to the children several days before the shooting but the mother refused.
KRQE-TV reports the city of Albuquerque will host an Angel Tree Lighting on Civic Plaza Thursday night at 6 p.m. to commemorate the children who have died from violence and abuse.
New Mexico Agencies, Lawmakers Grapple Over Limited Dollars – Associated Press
Officials with three key state agencies made their case to an influential panel of New Mexico lawmakers on Wednesday as the battle over limited revenues begins to shape up ahead of the legislative session.
The Children, Youth and Families Department and the Health and Human Services agencies appeared before the Legislative Finance Committee during the third day of a weeklong hearing in Sana Fe.
Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest says his agency now administers services to more than 900,000 low-income New Mexicans and the goal is to keep improving access but that costs are rising.
Heath Secretary Lynn Gallagher says funds are needed to repair or replace equipment at the state scientific lab that's being held together by masking tape. Otherwise, she says testing could be compromised.
Funding for child care initiatives and worker retention is also on the line.
Regents Take No Action After Meeting On UNM President's Fate – Associated Press
The University of New Mexico Board of Regents called a special meeting to discuss possibly suspending or firing UNM President Bob Frank, but wound up taking no action.
Wednesday's 3 ½-hour meeting was the latest development between Frank and the regents, who met last week in closed session for two hours.
Frank has been UNM president since June 2012.
He announced in September that he won't seek to renew his contract when it ends on May 31, 2017.
If the regents pursue termination, Frank would receive a statement explaining the grounds for his firing and be given a chance to respond in writing to the notice within 30 days.
To fire Frank, a majority of the seven regents must vote to do so.
‘Cold Mountain’ Brings First Grammy Nomination To Santa Fe Opera – Santa Fe New Mexican
A recording of the opera based on the book “Cold Mountain” that premiered at the Santa Fe Opera has been nominated for two Grammy Awards.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports this is the first Grammy nomination for the company. Opera General Director Charles McKay said the opera, which premiered in summer 2015, was a milestone for the company.
The Santa Fe Opera recorded four performances of “Cold Mountain” to create the final product. It’s competing in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category and in the Best Opera Recording category.