$100,000 in spending funds extravegant lifestyle for staff
Four star resorts, steak dinners and putt putt all routine expenses for NMFA staff
*Update: (Nov. 29, 2012) We shared our report with KOB-tv and they tracked down former NMFA CEO Rick May to ask about these expenses. See what he had to say and why KOB is going back to ask more questions. View the clip at the bottom of the post.
Santa Fe - The New Mexico Finance Authority is arguably the most important state agency you've never heard of. And, it's a mess. The NMFA assists government entities, essentially cities and counties, in the planning and financing of infrastructure projects and major purchases. If your city needs a new water system or fire truck, they likely go to the NMFA for loans to fund those projects, which the NMFA fund through investments and bond sales. It is essentially a bank for government, leveraging the bargaining power of collected investments to secure low -cost loans to grow New Mexico.
Like a bank, it has staff and a Board of Directors and must undergo annual audits and report its balance sheets. But, unlike your community bank, the NMFA uses taxpayer dollars, meaning the public has a big interest in being sure it operates responsibly.
Earlier this year, it was discovered that the NMFA faked its 2011 audit - essentially cutting and pasting positive findings from its 2010 audit to create a 2011 one - then promoted that audit around to investors as proof that investments in New Mexico were a good bet. The fake audit, submitted to the Board of Directors from staff, wasn't uncovered until July. That has a lot of people, from Wall Street to the State Auditor, asking how no one noticed.
The NMFA is supervised by a twelve-member Board of Directors, ten of whom are appointed by the governor. Those appointees hire a CEO, most recently Rick May who is currently on leave while an investigation is underway, who manages the day-to-day operations and supervises staff. May was formerly a cabinet secretary under Governor Susana Martinez.
Thom Cole of the Albuquerque Journal recently penned a few articles on extra ordinary spending by NMFA staff for items like luxury car leases and extravagant going-away-parties for the CEO who oversaw the fake audit.
But, ProgressNow New Mexico has undertaken a deep dive into credit card purchases by senior NMFA staff before and after the fake audit was discovered and we found an agency run more like a Wall Street billion-dollar hedge fund than a fiscal agency responsible for protecting taxpayer dollars.
While other state agencies cut back on training, travel and office supplies, NMFA staff were dispatched across the country: staying in luxury resorts, eating in five star restaurants, even playing Putt Putt - all on the taxpayer dime. In total, NMFA staff racked up more than 400 transactions on state credit cards totaling almost $100,000 on extravagant travel, lodging, food and luxury expenses in little more than eighteen months (NMFA was averaging more than $5,200 in incidental expenditures per month until July 2012 when the fake audit was uncovered. Incidental spending essentially stopped when CEO Rick May was placed on leave).
Here's just a snapshot of what we found:
Since January 1, 2011, NMFA spent:
· $59,391.23 on lodging including four and five star resort hotels in New York, Miami Beach and Washington, DC;
· $16,192.92 on airfare to travel to Miami Beach, New York City, Boston, Dallas and more;
· $14,777.57 on meals for staff and guests, often at four and five star restaurants;
· $6,438.86 on recreation, like Putt Putt, yoga equipment and at golf resorts.
Here are just a few of our favorite charges:
· $29.85 at "Putt-Putt Golf & Game";
· $74.99 at a Santa Fe brewery tap room;
· $182.84 on Chinese takeout from Panda Express;
· $283.00 at an online Yoga equipment store;
· $361.67 at a four-star Dallas Steakhouse restaurant;
· $412.41 for luxury Nambe giftware;
· $850.08 for rental cars;
· $861.57 for one night at an upscale Las Cruces hotel;
· $1,009.89 for three nights at a Washington, DC luxury hotel;
· $1,409.20 for two nights at a suburban Washington, DC luxury resort;
· $1,646.86 for four nights at a four-star Times Square hotel in New York City;
· $1822.22 for two nights at a Boston luxury hotel;
And, senior executives of NMFA charged:
· $6,828.35 at the Inn & Spa at Loretto, a luxury hotel and spa resort in Santa Fe, the same city where the NMFA is headquartered;
The NMFA needs a real shakeup and it should start by ousting the governor's political appointees who, after inheriting this fleecing of taxpayers, doubled-down on the personal benefits instead of blowing the whistle.
Governor Martinez endorsed May's bid for position of CEO in August 2011 when the board, led by her appointees, approved his appointment.
View some of the NMFA's expenses at the bottom of the post.
*Update: (Nov. 29, 2012) We shared our report with KOB-tv and they tracked down former NMFA CEO Rick May to ask about these expenses. See what he had to say and why KOB is going back to ask more questions. View the clip here.