Gadi Schwartz Is Wrong About Ray Begaye’s Misconduct
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A great report exposing dishonest conduct by Rep. Ray Begaye was marred by a misstatement of the law. After nailing Begaye for submitting false vouchers to the State of New Mexico, KOB-TV reporter Gadi Schwartz let him off the hook unnecessarily. Contrary to what viewers were told, state legislators are not immune from criminal responsibility for lying to get money from the State of New Mexico.
Here’s a link to the report.
Schwartz cornered Begaye and confronted him with documentary evidence–prepared by Begaye himself–that he had sought per diem and mileage reimbursement from the public coffers when all his expenses for the trip in question were paid by another organization. In 2010, Begaye attended a conference in Arizona sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators. They paid for his hotel and meals over a four day trip. They also paid for him to rent an SUV and drive from his New Mexico home. They even picked up his gas tab.
Begaye fronted his expenses and submitted a reimbursement request to the conference sponsors. On the same day he turned to them for reimubursement (and they paid up), he also submitted a bill to the State of New Mexico for mileage for driving his personal car. As Schwartz demonstrates, it was a flat out lie.
Begaye also sought five days of per diem at $153 per day even though the conference records showed his trip lasted only four days.
Schwartz had him, then him let slink away in the closing minute.
“If anyone else did this it would be illegal,” Scwartz says. “But state lawmakers made themselves exempt from the state’s Per Diem and Mileage Act.”
Wrong, says lawyer and State Representative Nate Gentry of Albuquerque. “Representative Begaye’s actions are deeply troubling. If what is alleged by the media is true, Mr. Begaye may face charges for violating various criminal statutes, which carry felony penalties. While I cannot speak for what charges prosecutors may pursue, this is a matter the legislature needs to visit during the next legislative session to determine what, if any, actions are appropriate.”
Gentry points to two criminal statutes that may be applicable to Begaye’s actions. New Mexico Statutes Annotated Section 30-23-2 provides that someone may not pay or receive state money to which they are not entitled. Begaye lied about using his personal car and was not entitled to receive nearly $500 in mileage reimbursement. It may be a stretch to apply this law since it pertains to “personal services,” and falsely claiming use of a personal car may not be viewed as a “personal service.” Begaye was lying in seeking payment for use of his car; he was not wrongfully seeking payment for the personal service of driving the vehicle.
NMSA Section 30-23-3 makes it a crime to submit a false public voucher. It seems that Begaye’s conduct falls squarely within the prohibitions of that criminal statute. That law states:
Making or permitting false public voucher consists of knowingly, intentionally or willfully making, causing to be made or permitting to be made, a false material statement or forged signature upon any public voucher, or invoice supporting a public voucher, with intent that the voucher or invoice shall be relied upon for the expenditure of public money. Whoever commits making or permitting false public voucher is guilty of a fourth degree felony.
Gentry introduced an anti-corruption bill in the last legislative session. Begaye was one of the Democrats voting against the bill. Gentry is a Republican seeking re-election.
Gadi Schwartz is blessed with fire in his belly. I’m not sure I could do the confrontational interviews where he shines. Let’s hope his next brave face-to-face is with New Mexico Attorney General Gary King asking the state’s top law enforcement officer if he’s going to look the other way on Begaye’s false vouchers, or apply the law the same way he would apply it to any other state official.
We’ll stay tuned.