Two ac­cused in sus­pected scam

Albuquerque Journal - - METRO & NM - BY RICK NATHANSON JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit eREAD, which pro­vides ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for kids, in­clud­ing ACT/SAT prepara­tory pro­grams, is ac­cused of il­le­gally spend­ing money in­tended for the Martin Luther King Jr. State Com­mis­sion.

Mean­while, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the com­mis­sion is ac­cused of il­le­gally de­posit­ing com­mis­sion funds with eREAD in or­der to cir­cum­vent state rules and reg­u­la­tions for col­lect­ing and dis­pers­ing money.

That’s ac­cord­ing to a search war­rant served Aug. 23 at the Pub­lic Em­ployee Re­tire­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of New Mex­ico, look­ing at the ac­count of eREAD ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Charles Coun­tee. Copies of that search war­rant were re­leased Wed­nes­day by the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

Coun­tee, a re­tired pro­ba­tion and pa­role of­fi­cer, draws a pen­sion from PERA. His fi­nan­cial records from the re­tire­ment ac­count, in­clud­ing state-

ments, with­drawals, trans­fers and per­sonal cor­re­spon­dences, were among the items named in the search war­rant “in or­der to ver­ify Coun­tee’s claim of hav­ing with­drawn from his re­tire­ment ac­count in or­der to pro­vide fund­ing for eREAD.”

A mes­sage left for Coun­tee at eREAD Wed­nes­day evening was not re­turned.

Ac­cord­ing to Spe­cial Agent Christo­pher Kohler, who is con­duct­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Kim­berly Greene, the MLK Com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor from 2012 un­til Fe­bru­ary 2, 2016, used eREAD as “a third-party fidu­ciary” to cir­cum­vent the state’s pro­cure­ment rules and reg­u­la­tions” be­cause she thought the process was too rigid and did not fit her model of how she wanted to con­duct the com­mis­sion’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

The bulk of eREAD’s fund­ing is from gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing the state of New Mex­ico and Ber­nalillo County.

Greene and Coun­tee ap­par­ently en­tered into an in­for­mal agree­ment in which eREAD would hold all funds do­nated to the MLK Com­mis­sion in an eREAD ac­count at the Bank of the West, re­sult­ing in the co-min­gling of funds from both or­ga­ni­za­tions. Coun­tee would then dis­perse the MLK Com­mis­sion funds to Greene upon her re­quest. This ar­range­ment was never re­vealed to the state, the war­rant said.

Ac­cord­ing to the search war­rant, mul­ti­ple times be­tween 2014 and 2016, Coun­tee used money from the co-min­gled ac­count to pay eREAD bills and salaries, in­clud­ing his own. On some oc­ca­sions, eREAD had a neg­a­tive bal­ance, al­though the MLK Com­mis­sion’s funds in the ac­count ap­peared to make eREAD sol­vent.

Coun­tee also is ac­cused in the war­rant of fraud­u­lently ob­tain­ing money from pub­lic en­ti­ties by pro­duc­ing in­voices for phony ex­penses “or by say­ing he needed money to pay for a pro­gram that he had no in­ten­tion of fund­ing.”

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