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N.M. Finance Authority CEO suspended after accusation

By BARRY MASSEY
Associated Press

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Finance Authority on Thursday suspended its top executives, including one who has been arrested for fraud and other charges, while an investigation is under way into how the agency’s financial audit was falsified.

The authority’s governing board placed Chief Executive Officer Rick May on administrative leave with pay effective immediately. Chief Operating Officer John Duff was placed on leave without pay.

The management shake-up came a day after Duff and former controller Greg Campbell were arrested for fraud and other charges involving fake financial statements that made the authority’s revenues appear stronger in 2011.

Brett Woods, deputy secretary at the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, was named acting CEO.

Woods has served on the board when the department secretary, John Bemis, has been unable to attend.

Woods has held a wide range of government jobs, including executive director of the state Gaming Control Board and a legislative budget analyst.

Board chairwoman Nann Winter said the decision to suspend May represented a vote of no-confidence in his management of the authority.

Winter said the board decided “we needed to change the direction of that organization immediately as well as address the arrest.”

She said “clearly, there is a responsibility on Mr. May’s part in what has transpired to date.”

The board’s decision is likely the first step toward firing May and Duff or pressuring them to resign.

May said in a telephone interview, “I am proud of my service. I did everything I could to help defend and protect and improve the missions and programs of the Finance Authority. I think the Finance Authority, until this most recent incident, is better.”

May said he will continue to cooperate with investigators to “get to the bottom of it and tell the truth.”

Campbell, according to an arrest warrant affidavit, has acknowledged faking the audit. After his release from jail on Wednesday, Campbell told KOB-TV that he didn’t steal any money and said it was a “mistake on my part” to falsify financial statements.

May has told the board that the fraudulent audit was the product of a “rogue employee,” and said he and other senior executives relied on Campbell’s assurances that there were no problems with the audit.

The state auditor’s office is overseeing a forensic audit of the authority and board members say that will determine whether any money is missing.

National credit rating agencies have said they’re considering whether to downgrade the authority’s bond ratings because of concerns that the forged financial documents show a potential lack of financial oversight

May joined the authority last September after serving as Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration. Duff and Campbell started at the authority in 2005.

There’s been no indication of potential wrongdoing by May, but he has been criticized by some board members for his handling of the scandal after the authority discovered the fake audit last month.

May quickly hired a nationally recognized law firm and auditor to conduct an investigation, saying he wanted to signal to Wall Street that the financial agency was addressing its problems.

However, the board overruled May and decided to have a similar probe handled through the state auditor’s office to ensure its independence.

The criminal complaint for the arrests of Duff and Campbell said they agreed to accounting changes in 2011 that made the authority’s revenues appear $40 million stronger than actual amounts. The audit and its financial statements were made available to potential investors in the agency’s bonds and some of the charges allege that the two men conspired to misrepresent the authority’s finances to ratings agencies, bond buyers and the state.

However, the revenue in question – money that was transferred to the state at the request of the Legislature to help cover government budget shortfalls – was never pledged to back bonds that are the focus of investors and rating agencies.

The revenue represented cash balances from fees and other money the authority received for various programs it administers. The fake 2011 audit also makes note of the accounting change for the revenue transfer and explains why it was done.

The authority is a public corporation that acts like a bank, providing low-cost financing to local governments for projects ranging from government buildings to sewers and drinking water systems and equipment such as fire trucks.

The authority’s financing is separate from bonds issued directed by state government using tax revenues to retire the debts.

The NMFA is governed by a board of directors, a majority of them appointed by the governor.

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