IRS hit with audit for mismanagement and fraud

WTHR13 Investigates has learned the tables are turned on a federal agency feared for its ability to audit taxpayers. The IRS is now the focus of a year-long audit, thanks to federal employees who are blowing the whistle. Howard Antelis does not look intimidating. The soft-spoken, gray-haired Midwesterner stands five feet seven inches tall, wears khakis and drives an old SUV. He spends most of his free time on a softball diamond, playing with his dogs and delivering meals to the elderly. But behind the laid-back, guy-next-door image is a longtime federal employee with a dogged personality and a tenacious sense of duty. And right now, Howard might just be the IRS's worst nightmare. 
"I'm horrified and ashamed and embarrassed by what I've seen. It's not supposed to be like this," he told 13 Investigates. "We're supposed to protect taxpayers, so somebody had to say something." Howard is a tax examiner at the IRS's ITIN processing center in Austin, Texas. The large, unmarked building in south Austin is where the IRS decides whether to issue an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to the millions of illegal immigrants who apply for them. An ITIN allows undocumented workers to file tax returns and pay taxes, a legal requirement for those who earn income in the United States … even those who come to the country illegally. But 13 Investigates discovered the ITIN system is plagued by abuse and fraud. A four-month Eyewitness News investigation documented how many illegal immigrants use ITINs to get tax credits and refunds they're not entitled to. WTHR also exposed how millions of undocumented workers get their ITIN applications approved using phony documents. Read More News New Mexico


Texas grasshopper invasion nothing to worry about in New Mexico, expert says

Carlsbad Current-ArgusWhile plague-like numbers of grasshoppers have been the scourge of farmers in Texas, New Mexico farmers shouldn't have to worry about the small-yet-voracious creatures crossing state lines. "We just got done doing a survey with the USDA and right now the grasshoppers are below the level where they would have an economic impact," Eddy Co. extension agent Woods Houghton said. "We keep a watch on them every year." Houghton explained grasshoppers lay thousands of eggs each year, but only 4 percent typically survive. When the percentage of viable eggs grows to around 8 percent, watch out, he said. Texas and Colorado have seen an explosion in their populations, forcing farmers there who haven't already seen their crops damaged to spend as much as $45 per an acre to spray pesticides as a defense against the grasshoppers according to Colorado's Greeley Tribune. So far this year the numbers here in New Mexico have remained below that threshold thanks to recent rains, Houghton noted that the grasshoppers tend to be a periodic pest. He also noted the area's tarantulas like to feed on the grasshoppers' eggs and that helps keep the population in check. "They might be an issue if it stays dry, and we are due since it hasn't happened in a few years. But in my opinion, they shouldn't be a problem this year," Houghton said. Read More News New Mexico


Feral hogs now in Otero County

KRQEThe feral hogs that live in 18 of New Mexico's 33 counties are now in Otero County. Officials tell the Alamogordo Daily News that the hogs destroy property and habitat and prey upon native species. Feral pigs were first discovered in the Bootheel region of New Mexico in 1988. They're believed to be remnants of a herd of escaped or released domestic pigs. The eastern New Mexico hogs are believed to have been intentionally released for hunting reasons. The state Legislature in 2009 passed a law making it illegal to import, hold, release or sell feral hogs or operate a commercial wild hog hunt. It was passed in an effort to stop the growth of the wild pig population and the problems associated with hunting them as a sport. Read More News New Mexico


Colorado River Water Demand Rises

San Juan River, Tributary of the Colorado
Albuquerque JournalWith population growth pushing up Colorado River Basin water demand as climate change pushes down supply, New Mexico and the other states that depend on the river face a growing gap between how much water nature provides and how much humans want to use. New Mexico’s population that uses the river’s water, currently nearly 1.5 million people, is expected to grow to between 2 million and 3 million by 2060, according to the latest data from a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study. The San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado, provides water in northwest New Mexico. In addition, the Bureau moves water through a tunnel beneath the continental divide, providing Colorado Basin water for Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other residents of the Rio Grande Basin. “It’s an important part of our water supply,” said David Jordan, a hydrologist with the Albuquerque office of INTERA, a water resources consulting firm. Across the western United States, nearly 40 million people live in the region that gets its water from the Colorado. By 2060, that is likely to rise to between 50 million and 75 million, according to the bureau study. Read More News New Mexico


Balderas Wants "No Resistance" from NMFA

Hector Balderas
New Mexico State Auditor Hector Balderas appeared on the PBS-produced political show, "New Mexico in Focus" this weekend. He was interviewed by Matt Grubb. Balderas says he does not want any "resistance" from the New Mexico Finance Authority as he investigates the circumstances surrounding an auditing mess at the agency. You can watch an excerpt of the interview here: News New Mexico


Former NMFA Controller: "No Malicious Intent"

KOB - The KOB 4 On Your Side team found and interviewed the man at the center of a statewide investigation into a forged state audit.
Greg Campbell
State investigators and other media outlets have been looking for former New Mexico Finance Authority Comptroller Greg Campbell to question him about the audit. State officials have said he’s responsible for creating a fake audit full of fraud and lies. The effects of the fake audit may be devastating for New Mexico’s future. The state’s overall credit rating could be lowered and there is growing distrust from Wall Street
Campbell left the NMFA in June after submitting the 2011 audit, but hasn’t been heard from since the scandal broke last week; that is until KOB 4 On Your Side Investigative Producer Peter St. Cyr tracked him down at his Albuquerque home. St. Cyr questioned Campbell about state officials's finger pointing.
“It probably is fair because it was under my supervision to get the audit done and completed," replied Campbell.
Campbell said he did put the audit together without full care, but said he had no criminal intent. And he said it was "probably" negligent on his part to assemble the audit in that manner.
He said, instead, he should have had the auditor and management sign off on not only the numbers, but also on the format and everything else in the report. Campbell said officials mistook his “draft” report for the “final” report. Read full story and watch video here: News New Mexico

Is Lobo Village Completely Out of Control?

Albuquerque Journal - It doesn’t matter whether it’s finals week or a Tuesday: Students say partying is constant at Lobo Village – the University of New Mexico’s only alcohol-legal dorm. It’s so bad that Noel Dawson and his roommates, along with his girlfriend and her roommates, are moving out of the privately run apartments as soon as their leases expire next month.
“It’s just too much. … It’s like constant partying, all the time,” Dawson said. “I get it – college students are gonna party. But it’s like management doesn’t care.”
According to documents obtained by the Journal through a public records request, UNM police have responded to incidents at Lobo Village about 100 times since last August. Albuquerque police have also responded more than 100 times, although some of those calls likely overlap with UNM response.
While many police reports deal with burglaries and car crashes in parking lots, others detail an alarming number of dangerous, alcohol-induced situations. Read full story here (subscription required) News New Mexico

308 Retired NM Educators Have Not Returned ERB Overpayments - $813,713

Jan Goodwin
Alamogordo Daily News - The New Mexico Educational Retirement Board has filed lawsuits against 24 people who received more than $181,000 in overpayments due to a computer error at the teacher pension fund. The Albuquerque Journal reports that Jan Goodwin, the board's executive director said Friday the legal action was a "last resort" in an attempt to recoup the overpaid amounts, plus interest, from pension fund beneficiaries who have not yet repaid the money.
The agency had sent each of the 693 affected beneficiaries up to four letters requesting repayment, and officials say more lawsuits are expected in coming weeks.
"We have contacted them on multiple occasions asking them to pay back the money," Goodwin said.
More than half of the $1.7 million in erroneous interest payments -- ranging from 66 cents to $306,000 -- has been collected since the written requests were sent, Goodwin said.
However, $813,713 is still outstanding, and 308 of the 693 affected beneficiaries have not paid back any of the money. Read full story here: News New Mexico