AG investigates lawmaker's possible double dipping
Posted at: 09/20/2012 8:11 PM
| Updated at: 09/20/2012 8:39 PM
By: Gadi Schwartz and Peter St. Cyr, KOB4 On Your Side
Investigators at the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office have confirmed they are launching an investigation into state Rep. Ray Begaye’s travel expenses after a KOB4 On Your Side report revealed the lawmaker received two reimbursements for the same trip to Phoenix in December 2010.
The Attorney General's Office said it was notified of Begaye's possible misconduct last week by the Legislative Council Services after 4OYS began making inquiries. KOB4’s investigation revealed Begaye may have pocketed nearly $1,000 in taxpayer money after he claimed he drove a private vehicle 836 miles to Arizona for a national Conference of State Legislators seminar.
But documents obtained by 4OYS indicate that Begaye actually drove a rental car provided by organizers of the conference.
Begaye returned $1,800 to the Conference last week, but has not returned any of the nearly $1,000 he pocketed from state taxpayers.
The 4OYS story was the talk of the town on Thursday. Talk radio station 770KKOB invited their listeners to discuss the story on Bob Clark’s morning show.
Many callers said they believe Begaye committed a felony. And Clark said the ranking member of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and Chairman of the Behavioral Health Subcommittee, should consider resigning.
Several KOB4 viewers also expressed their outrage on the station’s Facebook page.
“After he pays back the state and apologizes, he needs to resigns,” Randy Thompson wrote.
“Who knows what other expenses he has charged in the past." Viewer Sarah Haynes wrote “if you pocket excess money for that .. it’s just wrong. This is as easy as black and white.”
But it may not be clear at all. A loophole in the law exempts legislators from per diem regulations and Begaye's reimbursement was submitted to the state before he was reimbursed by the Conference.
Even so, Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque) said he believes Begaye could be charged with making or permitting a false public voucher – a fourth degree felony.
KOB4 On Your Side has submitted several follow up requests under the state's public records law to take an in-depth look at Begaye's spending habits.