ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Attorney General says University of New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs could be fired over UNM’s Scotland golf trip.
A Larry Barker investigation uncovered how UNM’s athletic director used public money to pay for state employees on the high-priced trip, and also paid for three private citizens to go.
Now, the state’s attorney general is on the case.
“We are required to enforce the Governmental Conduct Act,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas told KRQE News 13.
Balderas sent a letter to UNM’s president Thursday, outlining an investigation into the ill-fated golf trip.
It was a dream vacation with a hefty $8,189 per person price tag: a week-long golfing holiday with Paul Krebs and then Lobo basketball coach Craig Neal to some of the best courses in Scotland in June 2015.
A KRQE News 13 Larry Barker investigation uncovered it was a free vacation at public expense. Paul Krebs justified it as a working business trip, trying to schmooze boosters.
“It took investigative reporters to disclose this and that’s not how these checks and balances need to work,” Balderas told KRQE News 13.
The price tag for sending UNM officials on the golf trip was $39,382. They used a fictitious basketball tournament to cover up the expense.
Two weeks after Larry Barker’s story, KRQE News 13 learned that Krebs confessed to UNM’s president he also had the university pay for three private citizens to go on the golf trip, running up the total costs to more than $64,000.
The Attorney General opened the investigation Thursday into Krebs’ violation of the public’s trust.
“There are concerns about the initial concealment, and the fact that the checks and balances failed is a very important concern for me. However, the investigation will look at all those factors,” Balderas said.
Balderas says this type of violation can result in Krebs’ dismissal from the university.
“I think this is a concern for the whole state of New Mexico, this is not just about questionable transactions,” Balderas explained. “It’s important that this institution as well as other institutions of higher education be held to an accountable standard that taxpayers and parents can really draw confidence upon.”
Krebs sent KRQE News 13 a statement Thursday afternoon saying he “looks forward to working with the attorney general.”
The attorney general says he will wait for State Auditor Tim Keller to complete an audit of the funds before quickly deciding on charges.
This is the letter from the Attorney General sent to acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah:
May 25, 2017
President Chaouki Abdallah
Office of the President
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Dear President Abdallah:
I am writing in regard to the recent public disclosures related to the University of New Mexico (UNM) Vice President of Athletics, Paul Krebs, and a June 19, 2015 through June 25, 2015 golf trip to Scotland.
Pursuant to my enforcement authority under the Governmental Conduct Act (GCA), I have initiated a formal inquiry into the actions of public officials employed by UNM. See NMSA 1978, Section 10-16-l 4(E). The GCA requires all public officials to conduct themselves in an ethical manner in advancement of the public trust. As Attorney General, I am committed to ensuring transparency and accountability in state government.
It is clear by his public admission that actions taken by Vice President Krebs are contrary to the high ethical standards he and all university officials must uphold and implicate violations of the GCA. See NMSA 1978, § 1 O-l 6-3(A). Additionally, there appear to be violations of the antidonation clause of the State Constitution. See New Mexico State Constitution, Article 9, § 14. Krebs’ public statement indicates that he had full knowledge in 2015-when the trip was documented in a public record as a “Men’s Bball Tourn”-that public funds were used to pay for the expenses of private individuals. This acknowledgement, in and of itself, demands swift and appropriate corrective action by the University. It should be noted that violation of the provisions of the GCA by any public officer is grounds for discipline, up to and including dismissal. NMSA 1978, § 10-16-14(0).
Upon the findings from the audit conducted by the Office of the State Auditor, I will act quickly and in a manner that reflects my continued commitment to the interests, not only of UNM and its students, but of New Mexico taxpayers. In the meantime, I appreciate the full cooperation of UNM and the Office of the State Auditor with our formal inquiry into the actions of UNM, specifically related to the following areas of concern:
• UNM used public funds for the 2015 golf trip, the purpose of which was publicly described by participants as a means “to promote private philanthropy” to “generate support for athletics”, “to appeal to a small group of people and use this as a forum to raise money for local athletics” and “to use [the trip] as a fundraiser and to generate a return on investment”. In essence, UNM used public funds for fundraising.
• A UNM transaction log inaccurately documents what has been admitted as a fundraising trip as a “Men’s Bball Toum” to “Ireland”.
• The public funds used for this fundraising trip were initially disclosed as $39,382.00 for a travel agent penalty fee and for travel expenses for Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebbs, Men’s Basketball Coach Craig Neal, and UNM Development Office employee, Kole McKamey.
• In response to a local media request for information on April I 7, 201 7, requesting “documents showing the travel, lodging and other costs associated with (the Scotland trip) paid for by UNM”, UNM only provided expenses related to the three UNM employees who attended the fundraising trip and later admitted redacting all information related to the use of public funds to pay for the expenses of private individuals.
• It was later disclosed that an additional $24,000.00 of public funds was used to pay the expenses of private, non-university employees, to participate in the fundraising trip.
• Vice President of Athletics, Paul Krebs’ public statement related to the use of public funds to pay for private individuals to participate in this fundraising trip was: “The original plan was for UNM to not pay for any donors, but due to some late cancellations because of unforeseen circumstances, we had three golf trips that were paid for but would have been unused.”
UNM responded to the AG’s Letter with the following statement:
“As a public institution, The University of New Mexico welcomes the oversight of the state offices charged with protecting taxpayers interests. We will cooperate fully with the State Auditor’s review and the Attorney General’s inquiry into the concerns raised about the Athletic Department’s golf trip to Scotland. We look forward to having both assessments completed in a timely manner.” – Interim President Chaouki Abdallah