Investigation under way of EPCOG-managed funds

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

A federal investigation is under way into the embezzlement of funds being managed through the Eastern Plains Council of Governments.

EPCOG Deputy Executive Director Nick Brady said concerns surfaced in March over possibly embezzled funds from a federal rental assistance program managed by EPCOG.

As a result, an employee was terminated and the New Mexico Mortgage and Finance Authority and the state branch of the Department of Housing and Urban Development were contacted, Brady said.

Because the program originated from outside funding, Brady said all information was handed over to the two agencies, which are now handling the investigation.

EPCOG officials have been instructed by investigators not to comment on the case, Brady said.

Brady would not disclose how much money was taken or the circumstances surrounding the issue and said his agency is simply waiting for word as to what will happen next.

“The program has been frozen. There’s no activity with the program itself, it’s just stopped,” he said. “Our hands are kind of tied when it comes to the feds and we have to follow the guidelines (they gave).”

EPCOG is made up of seven counties in eastern New Mexico and helps local governments with infrastructure planning and economic development.

Funding is drawn from a combination of membership dues paid by local governments and state and federal appropriations, officials have said.

Counties in the Eastern Plains Council of Governments are Union, Harding, Quay, Guadalupe, De Baca, Curry, and Roosevelt.

EPCOG officials said in July the organization’s budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year is about $6.3 million.

NMMFA Communication Director Leann Holt said her agency served as the state level administrator for HUD funds that were issued through EPCOG for local distribution.

When EPCOG officials alerted NMMFA to the potential problem, Holt said they assisted EPCOG with getting their files together and contacted HUD, which began an investigation.

NMMFA has had no other involvement in the case, Holt said.

Helen Albert, deputy assistant inspector general with the HUD inspector general’s office in Washington D.C., declined to comment on her agency’s role in the case Friday and would not provide a timeline for the investigation.

U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt of Albuquerque said his office has not been advised of the case and he could not comment.

Fouratt said in cases of alleged wrongdoing, the HUD inspector general’s office has the option of handling things internally through administrative action presenting its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution.