ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – First it was that Scotland golf junket at public expense. Now, it’s mismanaged financial accounts in Loboland.
Ground zero for this latest University of New Mexico Athletic Department scandal is “The Pit,” UNM’s unique basketball arena. It involves hundreds of thousands of dollars, reckless accounting practices and a two page list that reads like a New Mexico who’s who and includes athletes, civic leaders and prominent business executives.
“The Pit,” Ground Zero
To understand what’s happened you need to go back eight years to The Pit’s $60 million renovation. The massive makeover included expanded concourses, a new facade, additional concessions and 40 luxury sky boxes. Lobo fans who shelled out as much as $45,000 a year could enjoy a season of Lobo basketball in the comfort of a private suite. The sky box rental fees were intended to help pay for the renovation.
However, KRQE News 13 found not everyone who rented the private suites actually paid the hefty price tag. In fact, some got a free ride courtesy of UNM. Whether by design or simply sloppy bookkeeping, Athletic Department bean counters failed to collect $432,641 in sky box rental fees. Some uncollected debts go back seven years.
UNM’s Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris told KRQE News 13, “We’re a public institution. It certainly raises valid questions. I think that’s why we’re trying to get to the very bottom of this situation.”
All of the discrepancies occurred during Paul Krebs’ tenure as UNM’s Athletic Director. The financial irregularities are detailed in documents turned over to KRQE News 13 pursuant to a Public Records Request in May.
Among the UNM documents is a two page spread sheet reflecting sky box past due accounts. Since 2010, 42 private suite invoices are listed as unpaid.
Lobo star Kenny Thomas
For example, the UNM documents show former Lobo star Kenny Thomas owes $40,000 for his 2014 use of private suite number 21. The documents include a note that a paper invoice was sent to Thomas in January 2015. It is unclear whether anyone at UNM tried to collect the debt.
The Albuquerque high tech start-up firm Lavu, Inc. is listed as owing $42,500 for its 2014 use of private suite number 28. KRQE News 13 contacted Lavu CEO at the time, Andy Lim, about the outstanding debt. Lim, who has since left the company, said he didn’t “know anything about it” and hung up. A spokeswoman for Lavu did not respond to KRQE News 13’s request for comment.
Integrated Control Systems
UNM records show an Albuquerque firm, Integrated Control Systems, owes a total of $67,500 for rental of sky box number 19 in 2014 and 2015. It is not known if anyone at UNM tried to collect the debt. A note in the UNM documents reads there “may have been a conversation with P. Krebs.” A spokesman for Integrated Control Systems President Steve Chavez says the company was not invoiced and the debt is likely a mistake. At the time of the suite rental, Steve Chavez was a minority shareholder of Wise Pies, Inc. which owned the naming rights to The Pit.
Consolidated Solar Technologies
During the 2014 Basketball season, suite number 14 was rented by Consolidated Solar Technologies. UNM records show the firm owes $21,000. A notation on the Consolidated Solar Technologies account reads, “attempt to collect made by phone call.” However, company President Jerry Mosher told KRQE News 13 he did not receive an invoice and was not informed of the debt. Mosher says he did get a call from the Lobo Club this week about the past due account. Moser says he will pay what is owed.
UNM records indicate Albuquerque businessman Nestor Romero owes $80,000 for sky box number 26 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. A notation on Romero’s past due account reads, “attempt to collect unknown.” Romero told KRQE News 13 he does not recall receiving invoices for the debt. He says he will rectify any unpaid balances.
J. J. Griego
UNM records indicate former Lobo basketball star J. J. Griego is on the hook for $9,000 in connection with his 2014 rental of suite number 38. However, Griego told News 13 on Friday that the charge is a mistake. Greigo says after he signed the rental agreement, he changed his mind and did not use the suite. He says UNM staffer Joe McLean told him at the time to disregard the invoice.
(Editors Note: This has been updated from original reporting on July 13, 2017 which stated that UNM claims it sent Griego a paper invoice in January 2015, there is no evidence anyone at the University tried to collect the debt.)
UNM’s Board of Regents
The two page list of past due accounts is not limited to sports figures and corporate executives. Included in the spreadsheet is the name of former UNM Board of Regent’s President Jack Fortner. Fortner, who is a Farmington attorney, rented sky box number 8 in 2014 for his personal use. University records indicate he owes $13,864. Fortner told KRQE News 13 the first he heard about the outstanding debt was last week. Fortner, who resigned from the Regents in May, says an Athletic Department source admitted the department was told not to send Fortner a bill for the debt. On Monday, the former Regent wrote a check for the full amount.
And then there’s private suite number 10, reserved for the exclusive use of UNM’s Board of Regents. The Athletic Department listing of sky box accounts in arrears shows the Regents failed to pay $30,000 for suite usage in 2015 and 2016. A notation on the Regent account reads, “never invoiced.” UNM officials admit they never sent the University’s governing board a bill. The debt was paid on June 30 which was one month after KRQE News 13’s Public Records request.
“That’s a difficult one to explain,” UNM Vice President David Harris says. “I personally took care of those funds being budgeted at the direction of the Regents. Why we were not invoiced I really can’t answer,” Harris said. “We did pay promptly as soon as we knew about it.”
“It’s Very Serious. It’s Public Money.”
It will be up to newly named Interim Athletic Director Janice Ruggiero to spearhead the collection of past due accounts. “It’s very serious. It’s public money. We’re a public institution,” Ruggiero said. “I believe anytime anybody is dealing with money we all need to be held accountable. Athletics needs to be held accountable. The Lobo Club needs to be held accountable because it is public money,” Ruggiero told KRQE News 13.
VP Harris says the University is conducting its own internal investigation. “I believe that there will be disciplinary action. I don’t believe that we’re anywhere near understanding where this went wrong,” Harris said.
“I believe we owe the suite holders an apology for our poor business practices, but ultimately we owe the fans an apology,” Janice Ruggiero said. “At the end of the day it’s public money and we’re responsible for it and we need to be good stewards of it and hold ourselves accountable,” Ruggiero told KRQE News 13.
The State Auditor’s office and the Attorney General’s office are conducting separate investigations of UNM’s Athletic Department finances.