New Mexico

Ex-BLM employee’s $10.7K fraud scheme included personal flight to NM

Adrian Anthony Aragon, a 52-year-old from Butte, Montana, and a former employee at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), acknowledged his involvement in a scheme in which he illicitly acquired $10,700 from government resources, utilizing a colleague’s forged signature for personal gains.

As an administrative assistant at BLM, Aragon had access to official financial tools, including a government travel card and a purchase card, which were meant strictly for work-related expenses. 

“The indictment in the case said Aragon used the government cards to pay for $2,500 in pottery, a $622 personal flight to New Mexico and cash withdrawals. The government alleged he attempted additional cash withdrawals and also tried to rent a car using the government card while on personal vacation. Aragon tried to cover his tracks by doctoring the statement on the card for the pottery and the flight, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” wrote the Daily Montanan.

BLM Field Office in Butte, Montana. DOI.

The misconduct came to light when an unnamed BLM worker, referred to as Jane Doe, reported unauthorized transactions totaling $10,700 on a government account under her name. Investigations revealed the funds were diverted to Aragon’s accounts at Wells Fargo and squandered on various personal expenditures.

Jane Doe indicated that Aragon manipulated office schedules to ensure he was often alone in the office, giving him the opportunity to misuse her financial documents. 

Further inquiries unveiled Aragon’s misuse of government-issued cards for non-official purposes, including a personal trip and luxurious purchases, with attempts to disguise these transactions.

Facing serious charges of government property theft and aggravated identity theft, Aragon now confronts the possibility of significant prison time, hefty fines, and a period of supervised release. His sentencing is anticipated on June 26, as he remains in custody awaiting further court actions.

Extremist anti-gun group endorses Gabe Vasquez

On Tuesday, socialist Rep. Gabe Vasquez took to X, formerly Twitter, to announce he has been endorsed by the fringe anti-gun group, Giffords, run by Democrat ex-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona.

Vasquez wrote, “Thank you [Giffords] for the endorsement!”

Ex-Rep. Giffords wrote, “With so much on the line, I’m proud to endorse Representative Gabe Vasquez, who’s committed to passing commonsense gun safety legislation.”

The far-left New Mexico Democrat added on his X post, “In Congress, I will continue to champion gun safety and provide the perspective of a hunter and gun owner. We can, and we must do more to keep our families safe.”

Vasquez backs extreme gun bans that infringe on New Mexicans’ Second Amendment rights. He obviously doesn’t understand that the Constitution’s provisions granting the right to bear arms were not written for the intention of “hunting” but rather upon the discretion of the nation’s citizens, which is why it writes, “… shall not be infringed.”

When asked in a forum about guns the first time he ran for Congress, Vasquez said, as reported by the Las Cruces Sun-News, “I think that I personally have to learn a lot more about different styles of firearms that can be used both for self-defense and for hunting purposes,” admitting he does not know enough about guns even to warrant having an opinion on the matter.

He added at the time, “I know for sure that an AR-15 is not a weapon that you should use for hunting, for example. But I want to be somebody that comes to the table and talks about these in a way that reflects both the values, the culture of New Mexicans, and at the same time keeps our kids safe.”

Vasquez faces a tough race in November against Republican former Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, who is leading in the polls in the Second Congressional District.

Gas prices set to skyrocket after MLG signs 50+ cent per gallon gas tax bill

On Tuesday, the far-left, anti-energy Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed H.B. 41 into law. The bill sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) is dubbed the “clean fuel standard.”

The bill will increase gas prices by at least 50 cents per gallon, and you can expect similar increases in groceries and supplies and pretty much everything else. This bill will make life more expensive in New Mexico for average consumers — harming the poorest New Mexicans, who will take the biggest hit with the new law. 

The bill finally passed the Legislature by a thin margin of 36-33 in the House of Representatives.

California, Oregon, and Washington have similar laws in place, and the gas prices in these states have risen significantly due to the radical proposal. 

According to the California Energy Commission, “Filling up the tank in California also costs more since gasoline prices are higher on average than the rest of the United States for a few reasons. These reasons include the isolated nature of the state’s transportation fuels market, a special gasoline recipe that reduces air pollution, environmental program costs, and taxes.” 

Washington State’s Department of Ecology’s May 12, 2022 report admitted the price increase due to the Clean Fuel Standard in the state, while an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality report acknowledged significant cost increases due to its version of the law.

Now, as New Mexicans battle the crippling burdens of inflation among ramifications from other legislation passed, consumers will be saddled with the brunt of the extreme legislation to hike gas prices to high levels the state has never seen before. 

Despite the ramifications to New Mexicans, Democrats celebrated the extremist bill being signed into law:

State Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo), also the Piñon Post’s editor, wrote about the bill taking effect, “Remember the gas prices now here in NM — and this is after over three years of Joe Biden’s hellscape. The governor and her allies in the Legislature are hiking our gas prices by over 50 CENTS PER GALLON with the horrific HB41. Hold THEM accountable by electing the strongest conservative fighters in the June primary and then the November general election to take them out and finally take out the trash!” 

“It’s clear that Governor Lujan Grisham took a look at California’s highest gas prices in the nation and decided that’s what she wants for New Mexico’s families,” said Larry Behrens, Communications Director for Power The Future, following the bill’s signing. “As a national leader in oil production, New Mexico’s leaders should do all they can to support our energy industry. Instead, Santa Fe politicians want to copy failed policies that punish families by driving up prices.”

New Mexico’s marijuana sales soar past $1 billion mark

New Mexico’s legal marijuana market sales have topped $1 billion in less than two years since the introduction of the adult-use market. Those figures include medical and recreational marijuana sales.

According to recent data released by the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department (NMRLD), this amount includes $678.5 million from adult-use cannabis across approximately 15.7 million transactions and $331.6 million from medical marijuana sales through around 6.5 million transactions.

The record-breaking sales figure is based on the latest monthly cannabis transaction data provided by the NMRLD, which also noted that February saw $35.7 million in recreational sales and $12.3 million in medical sales. 

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As of February, there are 1,050 retail marijuana outlets operational within the state.

December 2023 marked a record month for New Mexico’s adult-use cannabis market, generating $37.5 million in sales. A significant portion of the state’s cannabis market revenue is attributed to tourists, particularly those coming from Texas, due to its proximity and the legal restrictions in their home state.

Albuquerque leads in recreational marijuana sales with a total of $202.5 million. Following closely are Sunland Park and Las Cruces, both near the El Paso, Texas border, with cumulative recreational sales of $57.4 million and $45.4 million, respectively, highlighting the influence of cross-border shopping on New Mexico’s market. 

After NM Court of Appeals overturns child porn conviction, high court steps in

The New Mexico Supreme Court has reinstated the conviction of David Rael, a Los Alamos resident, overturning a previous Court of Appeals decision that had annulled his conviction for producing child pornography. 

Rael had initially been sentenced in 2017 to a nine-year prison term on multiple counts related to the manufacture, distribution, and possession of child pornography, as reported by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The appellate court had previously vacated Rael’s convictions on the grounds of insufficient evidence to demonstrate his intent to breach state law, with Rael maintaining that the downloading of child pornography was unintentional. 

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However, the Supreme Court’s recent judgment countered this view, highlighting substantial circumstantial evidence from the trial that suggested otherwise.

The justices pointed out that Rael’s claims of accidental conduct were not convincing, given the compelling evidence. They noted, “This evidence and reasonable inferences from the evidence are sufficient for a factfinder to reasonably conclude that Defendant intentionally copied these videos with the intent to copy child pornography because he knew they depicted child pornography.”

With the Supreme Court’s decision, the case will return to the district court to reaffirm the original judgment and sentence against Rael.

MLG holds photo op at ABQ school to sign two anti-gun bills

On Monday, far-left anti-gun Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had a photo op at Albuquerque’s West Mesa High School, where she signed two anti-gun bills and two crime-related bills.

“These four bills are an incredible effort to do more,” she said at the presser, per the Santa Fe New Mexican.

At the press conference, she was flanked by discredited anti-gun group “co-president” Miranda Viscoli of “New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence” and the sponsor of the extreme H.B. 129 anti-gun bill State Rep. Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe)

“All four bills become effective immediately, the governor said as she prepared to sign them,” the outlet reported, although the governor’s remark is inaccurate because these bills did not pass with an “emergency clause.” They will go into effect 90 days following the Legislature’s adjournment, which is in mid-May. 

Among the bills set to become law is House Bill 129, which forces through a mandatory seven-day waiting period for all gun purchases, with minor exceptions of law enforcement agencies and those who hold concealed carry permits. This is the most stringent anti-gun law passed this session, although it was significantly weakened from its original form.

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She will also sign Senate Bill 5 to make carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling station during active voting a misdemeanor. This rule comes with exceptions for law enforcement personnel on duty, legitimate business activities, individuals in their vehicles, and those possessing a concealed firearm, rendering the bill essentially meaningless.

Another bill she is set to sign is Senate Bill 96, which will toughen penalties related to violent crimes, escalating the punishment for attempted murder from a maximum of three years to nine years in prison. The bill also proposes to increase the sentence for second-degree murder from 15 to 18 years.

Finally, Senate Bill 271 introduces a new measure for repeat felony offenders, establishing an automatic no-bail hold for those who breach their release conditions by committing another felony, a minor fix to the state’s catastrophic 2016 ballot measure, which resulted in violent offenders to be released without bail pending trial. 

The governor wrote on X, formerly Twitter, following the event, “It’s time that we treat crime like the serious problem it is in New Mexico. That’s why today I signed four bills that will help make our state safer. Thank you to West Mesa High’s wonderful students for the warm welcome today!”

It is not uncommon for the governor to use children for political gain, especially to promote her extreme anti-gun agenda. 

Of the over a dozen extreme anti-gun bills proposed during the 2024 Legislative Session, these two measures were the only ones that passed — a huge defeat for the anti-gun governor who attempted to ban most firearms in the state after signing an illegal, unconstitutional executive order last year to snatch guns.

Lujan Grisham admin. trying to raise fees for state parks by over 100%

Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State Parks Division is set to update its fee structure by significantly raising fees across its 35 state parks. 

Wendy Mason, the division’s marketing and public relations manager, highlighted in a discussion on “New Mexico Living” that the parks are part of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department and are tasked with generating a significant portion of their budget—75%—through park fees and other self-sustained revenue streams.

Mason said state parks have been grappling with staffing shortages and constrained budgets, which is why the proposed price hikes. “Nothing is permanent right now,” Mason emphasized, indicating that the division is in the process of determining the most suitable fee adjustments after conducting studies and seeking input from the public.

Among the proposed changes are the removal of day-use fees for New Mexico residents to encourage more visits, the discontinuation of annual passes, and modifications to camping, utility, boat registration, and launching fees. Mason said that the elimination of day-use fees for locals aims to make the parks more accessible for exploration and enjoyment.

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However, it would not raise such fees for overnight stays. According to a study commissioned by the division and reported by KOAT & News, “The study shows proposed fees such as raising day-use per vehicle from $5 to $10; raising camping fees from $10 to $20 a night for New Mexico residents; electric service from $4 to $10 a night; water service for $10.” These proposed increases would cost over 100 percent more.

New Mexico House Republicans have come out unanimously against the proposed fee increase, writing, “The proposals appear likely to result in more than $6 million in additional revenue collection for the Division, which will more than double the revenue the Division is collecting in state park fees. Given the timing of the Division’s publication of the proposed rule – at the conclusion of the 2024 legislative session – this appears to be an end-run around the legislative process and a means for the Division to ensure its FY25 budget aligns with its requested budget levels rather than living within the means established by the Legislature.”

“New Mexicans are among the most economically challenged Americans. Rasing our fees to be consistent with the fees of neighboring states – which in some instances results in increases of 200% – fails to account for the vast differences in wealth of residents in our neighboring states, all of which have significantly fewer people living in poverty. The increased fees and new fees will make activities like camping, boating, and paddle sports unaffordable for many New Mexicans at a time when they are struggling to keep up with the significant inflation of recent years,” the House Republicans added in the letter.

Public input meetings will be held before April 1, and more information about them can be found here.

NM AG Torrez joins SOS Toulouse Oliver in meddling with grocery store merger

New Mexico’s far-left Democrat Attorney General Raúl Torrez is joining the state’s far-left Democrat Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver in trying to mess up the proposed $24.6 billion merger between Kroger and Albertsons, joining a multi-state lawsuit spearheaded by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

The legal challenge aims to halt the merger on claims that it would stifle competition, potentially leading to higher consumer prices, diminished quality, and adverse effects on employees. The FTC, expressing concerns over the implications for both consumers and workers, filed both a lawsuit and an administrative complaint to contest the merger.

Kroger, known for its diverse portfolio of nearly 1,300 stores across various brands in the U.S., including Smith’s and Price-Rite in New Mexico, seeks to acquire Albertsons, which also operates under multiple regional brands such as Albertsons Markets and Safeway within the state. 

Attorney General Torrez said, “My office proudly announces its collaborative stance alongside multiple states and the Federal Trade Commission in a collective effort to challenge and prevent this anti-competitive merger that threatens fair market dynamics.” 

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The lawsuit has garnered support from a coalition of attorneys general from Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming, all opposing the merger on the FTC’s platform.

Last August, Toulouse Oliver added her signature to a letter co-signed by six other secretaries of state, rejecting the $24.6 billion merger — a direct attack on the free market.

The letter highlights potential repercussions: “If the merger goes through, the lack of competition gives Kroger-Albertsons substantial power to dictate prices that harm growers and shippers who will be forced to cut wages for their own workers.”

However, Kroger’s perspective on the matter contradicts the officials’ bloviated concerns. A spokesperson for Kroger conveyed that the opposite is likely to occur if the merger progresses. They contend that prices would decrease, consumer choice would expand, and wages would increase as a result of the merger. The spokesperson also criticized the opposition, suggesting that the real beneficiaries of preventing the merger’s completion would be large, non-unionized competitors like Walmart and Amazon. Kroger assured that the merger would not lead to layoffs or closures of stores, distribution centers, or manufacturing facilities.

New Mexico families’ weekly grocery bills skyrocket to $286

In New Mexico, families are feeling the pinch with rising grocery prices, with a typical household now spending approximately $286 weekly on food, a figure that increases with the addition of children, according to KOB 4. UNM finance expert Reilly White acknowledges the surge in food prices, noting a slight stabilization, “Food prices are up and are likely going to stay up. The good news is they’ve stopped increasing as much.”

A glance at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the cost of staple foods such as ground beef has seen fluctuations, now standing at $5.56 per pound, a tiny decrease from July yet significantly higher before Joe Biden was installed as president. Milk and eggs have also seen price adjustments, with milk experiencing a moderate increase and eggs becoming more affordable post an avian flu outbreak. On the other hand, prices for produce like tomatoes and bananas have remained relatively stable, contrasting sharply with snack items such as potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, which have seen notable price hikes.

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New Mexico is witnessing a construction boom in the housing sector, with Alan Laseck of the Apartment Association of New Mexico reporting over 40 housing projects underway in Albuquerque alone. This surge in construction is anticipated to introduce around 5,000 rental units to the market, potentially easing the housing crunch. 

Despite the current average rent in Albuquerque standing at $1,340, up significantly from January 2020, the increased housing supply is expected to foster competitive pricing and more attractive leasing incentives, per the report. White optimistically predicts, “You’ll see prices starting to be more competitive, more deals will be offered by apartments and related companies to get people through the door… Because of this, there’s just a supply in units, you can expect that some of these prices will start coming down meaningfully.”

Additionally, wage growth is on a miniscule upward trajectory, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating a 1.4% increase in average hourly earnings over the past year, outpacing inflation rates since last February.

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