Sentencing for former Secretary of State Dianna Duran is scheduled to take place today in state district court in Santa Fe. Duran resigned from office in October and pleaded guilty to dozens of charges related to siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling problem, including felony embezzlement charges and four misdemeanor counts. Under a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to a suspended sentence and probation if Duran promises to undergo treatment and not enter any casinos. She can withdraw her pleas if the judge orders jail time. A former state senator, she ran for one of New Mexico's highest offices on a platform of eliminating voter fraud. She was the first Republican to be elected secretary of state since 1928.
On the subject of casinos, authorities are seeking two men and a woman who carried out an armed robbery of one near Albuquerque. The FBI says the trio fled Route 66 Casino Express on Sunday morning with an unspecified amount of money in a silver four-door Ford sedan that had tinted windows and a spoiler on the trunk. Both men wore camouflage and had scarves covering their faces. One of the men walked with a limp in his left leg. The woman wore a black leather jacket and served as the driver.
A study shows Santa Fe is losing at least $2 million annually in uncollected taxes from unlicensed vacation rentals for tourists and short-term residents. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the study presented to the City Council last Wednesday concludes that at least 600 unlicensed rental units are available inside city limits on a regular basis, despite a city law that caps the number of short-term rentals and requires annual inspections. The city doesn't know if the units' owners pay the state-mandated gross receipts tax. But the report assumes most licensed units are organized as businesses and pay the taxes, while those that are unlicensed probably don't. There's pressure from hotels and bed-and-breakfast businesses who say unlicensed owners bring unfair competition because they can offer lower prices while evading taxes and fees, some of which fund local tourism services from which all lodgers benefit, licensed or otherwise.
Some industrial energy consumers in New Mexico are protesting a move to make large-scale electricity customers pay for fuel savings they now enjoy from Public Service Co. of New Mexico's investments in renewable energy. About two dozen industrial energy consumers could be hit with a $1.5 million annual bill if state regulators stand by their decision to make large-scale electricity customers pay for the fuel savings. A hearing examiner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission had concluded that large-scale industrial and institutional consumers receive a disproportional share of those savings while enjoying legal protections that either limit or fully eliminate the amount they must pay to support PNM's renewable investments. The commission agreed. New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers is appealing the decision.
The president of the Albuquerque police union has pleaded not guilty to charges of child abuse and intimidation of a witness. The Albuquerque Journal reports Officer Stephanie Lopez made her first court appearance on Saturday. She was arrested Thursdayafter authorities say she repeatedly struck a teenage relative during a dispute over a utility notice. She was released from jail upon posting a $5,000 cash-only bond. A criminal complaint filed by a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy said the teen reported the abuse to a school official, who contacted authorities. Lopez, who is 40, has been ordered not to possess a firearm or contact the teenager in the case. She went on leaveFriday from the police department and as president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.Santa Fe County for the first time has comprehensive zoning, and a clear picture of acceptable use for unincorporated land within county limits. But some residents are worried about a provision allowing anyone who owns 10 or more acres to operate a sand or gravel mine on their land. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the comprehensive zoning plan put in place at last week’s County Commission meeting is the culmination of five years of work. As of that meeting, residents have voiced concerns that a rule preventing mining operations from extending to within 200 feet of a land owner’s property line isn’t enough to protect neighbors from the unsightliness and noise of mining activities. Attendees at the meeting suggested the distance requirement be increased to 500 or even 1000 feet. The new rules also don’t say how long a mine within county limits can remain in operation. Instead, they specify the maximum amount of gravel or sand that can be extracted from mines in their lifetime.
Officials took the first step toward requiring most incoming freshmen at New Mexico State University to live on campus for one year. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the university's Board of Regents approved a resolution Friday in support of requiring incoming freshmen to live in student housing. They also expressed interest in possible exemptions from the requirement, such as students who live within a certain distance of campus and military veterans who are attending college for the first time. University President Garrey Curruthers indicated that the requirement could open the door for the university to enter into public-private partnerships with companies to provide additional on-campus housing. Regent Kari Mitchell expressed concern that the university was mandating a market for a potential public-private partnership.
Winter sports enthusiasts may have yet another reason to celebrate this week, as Northern and Western New Mexico gear up for more snowfall Monday night. In the Santa Fe Area, accumulation of 2-4 inches is expected. As National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Shoemake told the Albuquerque Journal, this next storm will be colder and will produce drier, more powdery snow, ideal for skiing and snowboarding. Shoemake said that while it’s too early to say much about the outlook for New Mexico snowpack, but he said conditions already look better than they have in four years, with more snow on the way in early 2016. And the weather this morning in Santa Fe: The current temperature around 20 degrees. Today’s high, 37 degrees, mostly sunny with a slight chance of snow; a winter weather advisory in effect this afternoon through this evening. Tonight, cloudy, with a low down to 17, and a 70% chance of snow overnight.