FYI building in Las Cruces, NM.

With agreement in hand, behavioral health CEO believed vindication was inevitable

Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.

Fracking boom leads to tension in Navajo communities

On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Chavez Herbert introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents. The listening session, which lasted about five hours, provided a glimpse into tensions in several small Navajo communities near Chaco Canyon over an uptick in fracking in recent years, pitting those who worry about the public health hazards it poses against government agencies who authorize it, as well as some of their neighbors who benefit  economically from leasing their land to oil and gas companies.

The slow-motion unraveling of New Mexico’s Medicaid crackdown

There’s no getting around it. Four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program, its case has experienced a slow-motion unraveling. No Medicaid fraud was ever found. And those eye-popping estimates that added up to $36 million the organizations had overbilled Medicaid? In the summer of 2017, the Human Services Department (HSD) is seeking drastically lower reimbursements for overbilling the public health insurance program for low-income residents, a review of public records and state court documents has found.

Black community wants answers on ATF’s Albuquerque sting, says it was ‘punch in the face’

Black community leaders and citizens want to know who invited out-of-town federal agents and informants into Albuquerque and how the decision was made to focus an undercover sting operation on an impoverished, largely minority section of the city, netting a highly disproportionate number of black defendants. They plan to put those and other questions into a letter to the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We want to know exactly what happened and why,” said Patrick Barrett, a member of the two organizations drafting the letter — the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange, a grassroots organization of black men. Barrett and others interviewed for this story were reacting to a NMID investigation of the sting published last month. NMID found 28 of the 103 people arrested — or 27 percent — were black in Albuquerque, whose black population is 3 percent.

Maps: ATF Albuquerque sting in context

Competing narratives have emerged about how agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) chose targets for a sweeping undercover sting operation in Albuquerque last year. A handful of defense attorneys who represent people arrested in the sting allege “selective enforcement” — essentially that ATF engaged in racial profiling as part of the agency’s strategy. They point to statistics: 28 of the 103 defendants are black — 27 percent — in a city with a 3 percent black population, and in a state where blacks made up just 5 percent of drug and gun defendants in federal court from 2006 to 2015. The defense lawyers also have questioned some of ATF’s tactics, many of which were detailed in a pair of New Mexico In Depth stories published last month, as they seek more information about the operation and, ultimately, dismissal of their clients’ charges. ATF has repeatedly ignored NMID’s request for comment about the operation.

UNM grads are leaving the state

New Mexico is known for certain characteristics: great beer, the beautiful environment and a rich culture. But the results of a small survey of University of New Mexico graduates and upperclassmen by NMID corroborates another characteristic and long-term trend the state’s leaders and policymakers repeatedly lament. Many of the state’s best-educated youth are departing the state for places with better job opportunities. A written survey distributed to 29 upperclassmen of 27 different majors, in both the arts and science fields, asked whether the students plan to stay in the state or not. Additionally, NMID conducted 10 one-on-one personal interviews with upperclassmen, gaining qualitative insight into their future prospects.

Federal public defender: In America people of color have been labeled with a broad brush

On May 7, New Mexico In Depth published a story that closely examined the mechanics and results of a high-profile undercover sting operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) last year in Albuquerque. At a news conference in August, federal officials trumpeted the sting operation as an “unprecedented” success, saying they brought in “the best of the best to deal with the worst of the worst.”

NMID found a far more complicated picture. Rather than the “worst of the worst,” ATF arrested many low-level individuals who were struggling with substance abuse issues. Some were homeless or living in cars. Many of those arrested were not the violent, hardened criminals or the big-time traffickers federal officials said they were after.