AG raids home of ex-head of Miss NM
’16 winner’s accusations of fraud, embezzlement sparked probe
Two years ago, I found myself in an unlikely position as both judge and chronicler of the Miss Albuquerque pageant, the first royal rung on the climb to the Miss America crown by way of Miss New Mexico.
But Greg Smith, then the new executive director of the Miss New Mexico organization, wasn’t pleased.
He scolded me for breaking the rules of judicial secrecy, as if I had just revealed the mysteries of the universe. Rules mattered, he said. Last year, Stephanie Chavez, crowned that day as Miss Albuquerque and later Miss New Mexico 2016, was among the contestants who contacted me to accuse Smith of some ugly behavior and failure to pay them their scholarship money.
Smith countered that Chavez
had broken the rules of royal conduct and that she and the others had not followed the rules on submitting paperwork for scholarship disbursement.
But Smith may have broken a few rules himself during his time with Miss New Mexico — he now faces allegations of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.
Agents with the state Attorney General’s Office raided Smith’s cattle ranch in Elida on Oct. 3, seizing bins of pageant documents, computers, a camera and a cellphone as part of an investigation that has been ongoing for more than a year.
“They’ve pretty much been working silently, doing their job,” said Chavez, who contacted the AG’s Office last year about her allegations. “We knew it was going to take some time.”
A 14-page affidavit details the allegations against Smith, including:
Leaving the organization with a negative bank balance and at least $54,419.75 in unpaid scholarships and vendor bills.
Running a fictitious board of directors with no regard to bylaws or financial record-keeping.
Deceptively encouraging contestants to tell donors that the organization was nonprofit and money raised was taxdeductible, even though the organization’s nonprofit status was revoked.
Forcing contestants to sell $10 raffle tickets for a new ATV. The raffle lasted more than two years, a winner was never chosen and a used ATV matching the one on raffle fliers was reported to be on Smith’s cattle ranch.
Charging contestants $450 for photo packages that cost $250 — then not paying the photographer.
Charging contestants $25 a night to stay in dormitories at Eastern New Mexico University for the pageant when the university charged $12.50 a night.
Bank records also uncovered numerous questionable purchases, withdrawals, transfers and overdrafts involving the Miss New Mexico accounts and Smith’s personal accounts, according to the affidavit.
That includes a $1,700 transfer from a pageant account into a cashier’s check to purchase cattle semen.
“The attorney general is angered by the misuse of scholarship funds intended for bright young women in our community,” said David Carl, spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas. “Our office has worked tirelessly with victims and their families in this case for more than a year, and we will continue to advocate to implement reforms that minimize financial exploitation of scholarship recipients.”
Smith, 55, could not be reached for comment. He told the Eastern New Mexico News this week that he was “busy” and referred calls to his attorneys.
But two attorneys who have represented him previously said they knew nothing of the AG case.
Smith was terminated from his position in February. A spokeswoman for the Miss America Organization declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation and adding that the organization is cooperating.
Last year, the organization had also refused to answer my questions, including whether Smith had undergone a background check before being named executive director. Had there been one, I suspect, questions would have arisen over Smith’s personal financial background, which includes filing for bankruptcy in 2002 and 2010, being sued by his bankruptcy attorney for $76,941.18 in unpaid legal fees, being sued for fraud over bounced checks and being arrested in 2002 on a felony theft charge in Texas over a missing check.
That charge was later dismissed.
After Chavez went public with her allegations, she said Smith retaliated against her, stripping her of her official duties and keeping her from participating in the 2017 Miss New Mexico pageant. Sacrificing her crown was worth it, she told me then, if it sounded the alarm about Smith.
The AG’s investigation seems a good sign that it did.
“Honestly, a little bit of peace overcame me, knowing that the truth is coming out,” she said.
Sometimes we are forced to choose right over reign, to speak up rather than smile silently. Chavez knows that. It’s why she and the others who came forward still rule.
Joline Gutierrez Krueger