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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 11:20 a.m. MST

  • SPACEPORT-WHISTLEBLOWER LAWSUIT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The former chief financial officer for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has filed a whistleblower lawsuit. Zach DeGregorio alleges he was forced to resign after raising concerns about financial malfeasance. DeGregorio also claims top officials committed securities fraud by refinancing spaceport gross receipts tax bonds under false pretenses. He also says in the lawsuit last week that secret meetings were held between state officials and Spaceport America's most notable tenant, Virgin Galactic. The lawsuits lists officials including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes and members of the spaceport authority board. A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says her office will not comment on pending litigation.

  • MONEY LAUNDERING SENTENCE

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (AP) — A former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue employee has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering. Prosecutors say 45-year-old George Martinez of Albuquerque was indicted by a federal grand jury last March. They say Martinez pleaded guilty Wednesday to 42 counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and six counts of money laundering. According to the indictment, Martinez was accused of using his position as a unit manager at the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department to fraudulently alter tax refunds and direct nearly $690,00 to bank accounts that he controlled between May 2011 and July 2018. Prosecutors say Martinez faces up to 32 years in prison when he's sentenced.

  • VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Only a couple of school districts and a handful of individual schools in New Mexico are pausing in-person learning for a week amid rising COVID-19 cases. That's according to data collected by the Public Education Department based on voluntary reporting by schools. New Mexico's largest districts have plans aimed at keeping kids in the classroom this semester. And state health officials said during a briefing Wednesday that the classroom is probably the safest place for children. Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase did acknowledge that the challenge might be having enough staff if teachers miss work. Like other states, New Mexico is seeing more cases due to spread of the omicron variant.

  • NAVAJO-HARDSHIP ASSISTANCE

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo President Jonathan Nez has approved $557 million in virus relief funds for individual tribal members. Nez signed the legislation late Tuesday to send $2,000 checks to Navajo adults and $600 to children under 18. Tribal lawmakers voted last week to tap some of the $2.1 billion the tribe received in federal coronavirus relief funding for hardship assistance. The money is expected to benefit about 350,000 tribal members. The payments will be sent automatically to those who applied for relief funds under a previous round of hardship assistance. The tribe plans to use the remaining funds for infrastructure.

  • CAPITOL RIOT-IN THEIR OWN WORDS

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many of the Jan. 6 rioters facing jail time have admitted they weren't peaceful protesters and that they were wrong to participate in the U.S. Capitol attack. Some directly accuse former President Donald Trump of misleading them. While Trump continues to lie about the facts of the insurrection, the statements of his supporters in federal court tell a different story. One of them, retired Special Forces soldier Leonard Gruppo, wrote in a letter, "I trusted the President and that was a big mistake." Other rioters remain defiant on the first anniversary of the insurrection.

  • RANSOMWARE ATTACK-BERNALILLO COUNTY

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Bernalillo County says it has discovered a suspected ransomware attack directed at its computer systems, prompting the county government to take affected systems offline and to close most county buildings to the public on Wednesday. According to a county statement, public safety agencies such as the sheriff's office and the fire and rescue department were operating normally by using unspecified ""backup contingencies" but the county jail canceled inmate visits Wednesday. County spokesman Tom Thorpe said the suspected attack meant that county officials couldn't access the affected systems. Thorpe said he was unaware of any demand being received in connection with the suspected attack.

  • EDUCATION LAWSUIT-NEW MEXICO

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's plan to address the needs of underserved Indigenous students hasn't been shared with tribal leaders or the public despite promises by state officials that they would do so last year. Indigenous education advocates had expected to provide feedback on the plan last October. The New Mexico Public Education Department promised to release the draft to the public on Dec. 1 to provide time for public comment before the legislative session that begins in mid-January. But that never happened and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not set a date for the release of the plan. The state is under a court order to address public education system deficiencies.

  • AP-US-JEFFREY-EPSTEIN-MAXWELL-TRIAL-SKETCH-ARTIST

NEW YORK (AP) — Elizabeth Williams was the eyes of the public throughout Ghislaine Maxwell's monthlong sex-trafficking trial. With the general prohibition of cameras in federal court, the courtroom artist estimates she drew around 100 sketches for distribution by the wire service. Williams has been rendering courtroom scenes in pen and pastel since 1980 and has drawn for The Associated Press since 2004. At one point, Maxwell drew the courtroom artists themselves, but that didn't faze Williams who says she prefers to keep a wall between herself and the subject. Williams calls herself the "substitute camera," forgoing any artistic license.