ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was the vacation of a lifetime touted as an extraordinary week of golf and friendship: Fly to Scotland. Hob-nob with the Lobos. Stay at five-star hotels. And, play golf on the most iconic golf courses in the world.
That was the pitch made in 2015 by Anthony Travel, an Indiana travel agency. For $8,189 per person you join University of New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs and Basketball Coach Craig Neal for a week long golfing holiday in Scotland. The hefty price tag included six nights in luxury hotels (including the Turnberry Resort Lodges at Turnberry), meals, and five rounds of golf at championship courses such as the St. Andrews Jubilee Course and the Royal Troon Golf Club.
Twenty-three participants signed up for the June 2015 golfing holiday. The group included Paul Krebs, his son, wife, his in-laws, Craig Neal and his wife along with a number of loyal Lobo boosters and fans.
However, there’s a dark secret behind that golfing holiday two years ago. A KRQE News 13 investigation finds UNM’s Athletic Department quietly picked up the tab for university big shots to go on the international golf junket. Nobody seemed to notice when the Athletic Department doled out tens of thousands of dollars for airfare to Scotland, travel agency fees, luxury hotels, and rounds of golf at legacy golf courses.
“It doesn’t look good that the university spent money to go … to Scotland for a golf trip,” UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah said.
According to UNM Athletic Department records, Paul Krebs’ golf excursion cost the university $9,379 which included international airfare. UNM picked up Craig Neal’s tab as well which cost $8,189. Coach Neal paid his own airfare.
UNM Foundation Development Office employee Kole McKamey also tagged along at public expense on the Scotland Golf tour. The university paid $8,189 for McKamey’s golf, hotel, and meals. The
UNM Foundation paid McKamey’s airfare and the Lobo Club chipped in for some incidental expenses. McKamey told KRQE News 13 the Scotland trip was not a vacation but rather an assigned business trip. He says he went to Scotland to promote private philanthropy among the trip participants.
The Athletic Department also shelled out another $13,625 to Anthony Travel in penalty fees because the trip failed to attract enough participants. When you add it all up UNM spent $39,382 for university officials to go on a Scottish golfing holiday.
“I saw this as an appropriate use of university money to generate support for athletics,” UNM Athletic Director Paul Krebs said.
Krebs told KRQE News 13 the Scotland golf tour was not a vacation but rather a working business trip. He said Craig Neal, Kole McKamey and himself went along as fundraisers, using the relaxed social setting of the golf course to drum up donor support for athletic programs.
“The intent was to appeal to a small group of people and use this as a forum to raise money for local athletics,” Krebs said.
“It’s something that was given great thought and consideration. (It was) modeled after what other universities have done. The goal was to use it as a fundraiser and to generate a return on investment and I think we’ve done that,” Krebs adds.
But that’s the rub. You see UNM cannot use public money for fundraising activities. University fundraising is the sole responsibility of the UNM Foundation, which is a private non-profit organization.
President Abdallah says the Athletic Department’s use of public money to raise funds was inappropriate. So why didn’t the UNM Foundation pick up the $39,000 tab for the golfing holiday? We don’t know. Foundation President Henry Nemcik did not respond to several requests for comment.
The trip took place in June 2015. However, the financial irregularities weren’t discovered for two years. A close look at the Athletic Department’s transaction log gives a clue. The Scotland golf expenditures were listed on the log as a “men’s basketball tournament” in Ireland.
“Clearly it was simply a mistake,” Paul Krebs said. When asked if the Scotland trip was mischaracterized, the Athletic Director said, “I’m not sure that it was mischaracterized. It was the basketball coach and myself going on a trip overseas. It was misidentified there and that was simply a clerical mistake.”
“I don’t believe it is an appropriate use of university funds,” says State Representative Jim Dines (R–Albuquerque) who serves on the House Education Committee.
“The students’ interest needs to be looked at closer versus the administration’s interest,” Rep. Dines said. “When we’ve desperately got the need for monies for higher education, $40,000 is a large amount of money that could have been used for furthering some student’s education,” according to Dines.
Paul Krebs’ annual compensation exceeds $400,000. KRQE News 13 asked the Athletic Director why he didn’t pay for the pricey golf trip himself?
“We were acting on behalf of the university,” Krebs said. “I thought it was in the responsibilities of the job and therefore the university paid for the trip. Given the fact that it was a working trip for us the sense was we could justify the expenditure.”
But UNM President Abdallah isn’t buying that explanation. “(UNM) spent money from … university funds in order to take donors on a golf trip. If (the funds) were from the Foundation then we would not be having this conversation,” President Abdallah told KRQE News 13. He added, “In this particular case the Vice President for Athletics made the wrong call.”
“Hindsight’s always 20/20. If we had to do it over again would I do it differently? Would I use a different source of funding? Would we consider something different? Yes,” Krebs said.
“Any time that you lose trust or you do something that causes the perception that you’re not a good steward of the public money it is a very important issue,” President Abdallah told KRQE News 13.
“We’ll look back … and figure out exactly what happened in this particular case and move forward. I know we will not spend public money on golf trips to Scotland. I can guarantee you that.”