4OYS: Lawmaker caught charging state for free trip
Posted at: 09/19/2012 9:41 PM
| Updated at: 09/20/2012 8:37 AM
By: Gadi Schwartz and Peter St. Cyr, 4 On Your Side
Rep. Ray Begaye, D - San Juan
The spending habits of a New Mexico state representative are under review after a KOB 4 On Your Side investigation discovered the lawmaker double-billed both State of New Mexico taxpayers and a national conference for the same travel expenses.
After reviewing financial records, 4OYS discovered Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, pocketed more than $1,000 when he returned from a trip to the National Conference for State Legislators in Phoenix, Arizona.
In December 2010, Begaye claimed he drove his personal vehicle to a seminar on the health effects of salt.
After the trip, he submitted paperwork to the Department of Finance and claimed he put 836 miles on his own car.
Lawmakers are eligible to be reimbursed 0.50 cents a mile, or about $13 a gallon, to cover wear and tear, insurance, maintence, and for mileage.
But, 4OYS discovered Begaye, who's served in the legislature since 1999 and is currently the ranking member of the House Appropriations and and Finance Committee, did not drive his personal vehicle to the meeting in Arizona. Instead, NCSL organizers agreed to reimburse Begaye for a rental car.
Expense reports show Begay received $418 for mileage from the Department of Finance. He also received another $765, or $153 per diem for five days, and $425 for conference registration fees.
But, NCSL employees had already agreed to reimburse Begaye for most of his expenses, including $129 for a Jeep Patriot rental, which receipts prove he picked up and dropped off in Farmington, New Mexico.
When originally asked to explain the double billing Begaye told 4OYS he had done nothing wrong and had not double billed the state and NCSL.
But, emails sent immediately following his return to New Mexico show the state representative asked conference organizers to send him their reimbursement form.
“You and I also spoke about reimbursing the vehicle rental in lieu of the the cost of the plane fare,” Begaye wrote. “I am amendable [sic] to whatever the cost of the plane fare would have been at the time of travel from Farmington to Phoenix and make the deduction if the amount of vehicle rental exceeds the cost of plane fare. I also have meal tickets and hotel costs which I can include as well.”
When Begaye submitted his expense report to the NCSL, he asked for $214.56 for transportation and parking, $126.65 for meals, $220.77 for lodging, and another $4.07 for out of pocket expenses.
With money on the way from NCSL, Begaye then submitted his rental car and registration expenses to the State of New Mexico.
Last week, 4OYS caught up with the state rep at a Behavior Health committee meeting in Albuquerque.
When first asked what vehicle he took, Begaye told 4OYS, “I think it was a Dodge Neon.”
But, after showing Begaye the rental car receipt, the politican said he then remembered taking the Jeep.
“What happened was I did take the rental car because that was the only way I can travel,” Begaye said.
After a few more questions, Begaye walked away from 4OYS cameras.
Since we started to make inquiries, the NCSL has asked Begaye to return $1,800 to their organization. He said he sent them a check last week. So far, he has not paid back taxpayers.
According to state statute, lawmakers are exempt from per diem and mileage laws that apply to other public employees.
Begaye is running for re-election to his District 4 house seat this November. Republican Sharon Clahchischilliage is challenging the incumbent.