NMFA moves forward on investigations and projects, but big-ticket items in limbo

By Rob Nikolewski on July 26, 2012
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The moved forward in its investigations into a bogus internal audit and even approved a number of bond projects in a handful of communities Thursday (July 26) but there’s still a big, $27.2 million project in Albuquerque in limbo.

Board members for the NMFA, trying to recover its bearings after the fake audit put millions of dollars earmarked for state agencies and entities in jeopardy, were also told it has $37 million in unrestricted cash on hand to extend loans for 6-8 months.

NMFA board meeting, 7/26/12

The authority’s chief of investor relations, , said that 71 percent of the loans are under $750,000. That’s good news. But due to the controversy, a number of big projects are still looming and face delays, including $27.2 million in infrastructure improvements for the City of Albuquerque.

“How long can we continue making loans” is a major question, Zavelle told board members.

“The bids expire in mid-November,” , Albuquerque’s chief operations officer, told the board members of the project in Bernalillo County. “It’s possible we could lose our contractor … [a delay] could put us in a re-bid … and I’ve never been in a project in a re-bid where the price doesn’t go up.”

Another big project awaiting approval is a $20.3 million utility deal for the City of Gallup, although Gallup officials told the board they think they can find alternative funding in the short term.

The board was able to OK some smaller projects with the $37 million it has on hand, unanimously approving water projects in Doña Ana and McKinley counties, an equipment project in Clayton as well as packages in Taos and Lincoln counties.

“Those smaller projects that we can fund, most definitely, it sends a message that we’re open for business,” board member of the told after Thursday’s meeting.

The board is carefully watching how Wall Street ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s react to its decisions in the wake of the scandal. A ratings downgrade could cost taxpayers millions in higher interest payments.

To help shore up confidence, the board is about to hire an independent, third-party investigation team to see how and why the bogus audit was written and managed to slip through the NMFA.

The (SAO) has already started an investigation and is compiling a correct version of the Fiscal Year 2011 audit. Whoever wins the bid for the third-party investigation will report to the SAO.

The Finance Authority’s leadership originally signed a high-priced and well-respected Washington DC-based law firm called , along with the accounting firm of , to conduct the third-party investigation but after a contentious meeting last week, the contract was rescinded after board members wanted to re-write the agreements to make sure third-party investigators defer to law enforcement.

Board chair said Thursday a task force she’s heading is close to reworking the proposals in conjunction with the Auditor’s Office (with Steptoe and Johnson and KPMG, presumably, still in the mix along with other bidders).

Once the independent investigation team is announced, the NMFA hopes findings can be completed within 60 days.

“We have a reponsibility to report to the credit markets what the board’s preference is,” NMFA CEO said.

The state securities division is also looking into criminal charges regarding the faked audit.

, the department’s lead investigator, told Capitol Report New Mexico on Thursday he couldn’t hazard a guess how long it might take to complete the probe, “but given the number of people we have assigned to this case, I assure you it’s our top priority.”

Thursday’s board meeting was the first since the so-called “rogue employee” accused of writing the fake audit, Greg Campbell, resurfaced. Campbell was not called before the board Thursday and is reportedly being questioned about his involvement. Tanaka has not confirmed or denied that.

After two straight tense NMFA board meetings, there were no fireworks Thursday.

Board member Gutierrez told us he thinks the public and credit ratings agencies should feel at least some measure of reassurance:

Earlier this week, Capitol Report New Mexico talked to Gov. who said that even though there are multiple agencies and a third-party investigation involved, she expects all parties to cooperate in getting to the bottom of this:

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