Video: Federal sting draws responses in ABQ mayor’s race

Criticism of a massive undercover drug- and gun-crime sting spilled into the Albuquerque mayoral race last week, when candidates were pressed about a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a disproportionate number of black people. It was a serious question, made all the more serious by the man asking: Joe Powdrell, a longtime local activist past president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sponsored the Sept. 8 forum. The operation has drawn community and legal scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and for scooping up many who did not fit the “worst of the worst” profile trumpeted by federal officials after New Mexico In Depth investigations. Picking up on the alleged racial targeting, Powdrell asked the candidates “where your head is at in terms of this biased policing.”

Only three of the seven candidates who attended the forum addressed the sting directly.

Two more behavioral health providers take their case to state court

Two more behavioral health providers are contesting in state court how much, if anything, they owe the state of New Mexico for allegedly overbilling Medicaid, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported this weekend. The appeals are the latest in the drawn-out unraveling of the case Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration made in public four years ago when it charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program.

Analysis: NM still tops in nation for reliance on private prisons

New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Spaceport America, 10 years on

In case you missed it, you should check out Heath Haussamen’s five-part series on Spaceport America that ran on nmpolitics.net last week. It’s informative, especially the revelations about how much Spaceport America staff is keeping from the public in violation of state transparency laws.

Feds agree to meet with ABQ black leaders about controversial ATF sting

The acting U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque will hear out local black leaders and their concerns over a massive, 2016 undercover sting operation that “sent shockwaves” through the city’s black community. Acting U.S. Attorney James Tierney agreed to meet in a July 11 letter to the  local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the grassroots Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange. The groups’ leadership contacted Tierney after a series of stories by New Mexico In Depth that examined the operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The operation scooped up 28 African Americans — out of 103 arrested — or 27 percent, an “alarming” statistic, Dr. Harold Bailey noted in the NAACP’s letter. Bailey is the president of the local NAACP chapter.

ABQ mayor’s race tops $2 million

Albuquerque’s mayoral contest is officially a $2 million race, setting the stage for the most expensive mayor’s race ever in the city. Campaign finance reports filed today show mayoral candidates have raised or otherwise accumulated $2,103,107 since the beginning of the year. That figure includes $380,791 for Tim Keller’s publicly financed campaign. $500,000 in loans to himself by Ricardo Chaves, plus $8,648 he’s contributed to his own campaign. Dan Lewis has raised $355,254, which includes $90,477.56 he started the year with.

New Mexico behavioral health care system gets federal review

The federal Health and Human Services Department will inspect if New Mexico is properly serving New Mexicans in need of mental illness and addiction services. The review by the Inspector General of the federal Health and Human Services Department, confirmed in late June and made public Friday afternoon, comes roughly four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration disrupted care for tens of thousands of New Mexicans when her Human Services Department accused 15 organizations of Medicaid fraud and potentially overbilling the government by nearly $36 million. Citing the fraud accusations, the Human Services Department suspended the flow of ‘behavioral health’ Medicaid dollars to many of the organizations in the summer of 2013. Unable to stay in business without the Medicaid dollars, many had to shut their doors and are no longer in business. Ultimately no Medicaid fraud was ever found.

Black leaders call for more communication between city and community

Black community leaders and citizens have taken to the airwaves to call for reform as more information surfaces about a federal sting operation that arrested a disproportionate number of blacks in a city with comparatively few African Americans. Earlier this month, I interviewed leaders from several black community groups, as well as black citizens, for a New Mexico In Depth story about the design of the 2016 criminal operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF operation used three black and two Hispanic confidential informants (none were white) and focused on a low-income, largely minority section of southeast Albuquerque.  Last week on NMPBS’s public affairs show, New Mexico In Focus, I continued that discussion with Patrick Barrett of the local chapter of the NAACP and Janette McClelland, a resident of one of the neighborhoods targeted in the operation.  (NMPBS is an NMID partner.

Black man swept up in ATF sting wins legal victory, but stiffer prosecution looms

A federal judge in Albuquerque has concluded the methods used by federal agents in a 2016 undercover sting operation made it likely they would arrest a disproportionate number of minorities. And the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) did nothing to avoid the potential racial bias as agents chose people to target, Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote in a five-page order issued Monday. Parker’s ruling means Yusef Casanova, who was arrested last year, has the go-ahead to seek evidence to prove the agency targeted him at least in part because he was black. Casanova’s procedural legal victory comes as black community leaders in Albuquerque demand answers from federal and local officials about the operation. Agents arrested 103 people — 28 of whom were black, or 27 percent — a dramatic overrepresentation compared to Albuquerque’s 3 percent black population.