New Mexico

Documents: Feds want Town of Mesilla to reimburse Stonegarden funding

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - ABC-7's New Mexico Mobile Newsroom has uncovered documents stating the Town of Mesilla owes the federal government more than $21,000 and the feds are ready to collect.

The funds came from a law enforcement grant paid out in 2010 and 2011.

Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraza told ABC-7 the money the federal government wants back was from Operation Stone Garden or OSG.

"I want to be able to have a good logical answer as to why we have to write a check out for $21,000," Barraza said.

The operation gave money to local law enforcement to prevent, protect and respond to border security issues.

"We have tried to ask to try to get answers where this all, going back to 2014 when this came up, where we were with it, and unfortunately, hadn't heard anything until about eight weeks or less," Barraza said.

According to documents ABC-7 obtained through an open records request, an FBI investigation revealed Mesilla used funds from the grant to pay 737 overtime hours, fringe benefits and fuel for shifts of absent deputies or to work town events.

FEMA said all expenses were unrelated to Operation Stone Garden and the $21,000 was unallowable.

"Basically, Operation Stone Garden is to pay for overtime for our law enforcement officers, and that includes fringe and fuel while they are working Operation Stone Garden," Barraz said, "That is an allowable expense, so therefore, I would just like to see documentation."

Mesilla opened up its books to Dona Ana County, the "sub grant recipient." ABC-7 was told by the DAC County Manager nothing new was uncovered.

Meanwhile, Barraza said the town's audits haven't turned up anything.

"$21,000 is an awful lot of money to the Town of Mesilla. When you have an operating budget of a little under $1.5 million and the majority of that goes to fringe benefits and personnel salaries, it means quite a bit. $21,000 could pay for a part-time employee or even a full-time public works employee," Barraza said.

The federal government through New Mexico's Department of Homeland Security demanded payment June 19th.

The letter reminds the mayor the FEMA Finance Center can recover the funds by withholding FEMA money in the future or by having the Department of the Treasury collect, and the town is risking added interest and penalties.

The Dona Ana County Manager told ABC-7 the town of Mesilla filed an appeal and it was granted. 

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