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April 4 First News: More Uncertainty For Mental Health Counselors, Patients

Former New Mexico State Sen. Phil Griego is scheduled to appear in court today to answer to fraud and bribery charges in a long-simmering scandal over his role in the sale of a state-owned building.  State prosecutors say the Democrat used his job as a senator to orchestrate the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe, and later earn a sales commission from a private company without proper disclosure.  Griego says he did nothing wrong.  Today is his first opportunity to enter a plea since charges were filed by the New Mexico attorney general's office in February.  Griego is confronting 10 criminal counts for fraud, perjury, tampering with public records, bribery, and other violations.  Seven state district court judges have recused themselves from the case.  Today Griego will appear before Judge Sarah Singleton, but his attorney also has the right to have her removed from the case.  If that happens, a retired judge or one from another district could be assigned to the case.

A coalition of New Mexico environmental groups and community leaders are pushing for more electricity to come from renewable energy sources.  The head of the University of New Mexico's Sustainable Studies Program, Bruce Milne, says it's both desirable and feasible for the U.S. to shift to 100 percent renewable energy and that technological innovations in the industry could be exported globally.  Milne was among the representatives from Environment New Mexico and other groups who gathered recently in Albuquerque for a panel discussion regarding a new white paper on renewable energy.  Supporters said New Mexico is well positioned to be a leader in the transition.  That’s because it's the second sunniest state in the nation and has significant wind resources.

Another Arizona behavioral health company brought in to replace New Mexico nonprofits accused of Medicaid overbilling and fraud has announced it will stop providing services in New Mexico at the end of June.  Agave Health Inc. runs treatment programs in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and about 10 other counties. The company cited ongoing financial hardships along with Medicaid rate reductions as reasons for its decision.  Agave said in a statement issued Friday that it regrets having to take such as drastic measure.  The move means three of the five Arizona providers brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez's administration in 2013 to replace the New Mexico nonprofits have pulled up stakes in the state.  It’s the first company to abandon operations in northern New Mexico. Two other firms brought in by the Martinez administration to serve southern New Mexico behavioral health patients have pulled out over the last two years.  The state Human Services Department says it's working to ensure there are no gaps in coverage.

Police say two brothers who ran a Vietnamese restaurant in Albuquerque were gunned down by an estranged family member.  Police spokesman Tanner Tixier identified 24-year-old Jerry Nguyen and 31-year-old Anpha Nguyen as the two victims killed in Friday's shooting at the House of Pho restaurant.  Their father, Hung Nguyen, was also injured. Tixier says the shooter fatally shot himself after being pulled over by police.  Authorities say the suspect has not been positively identified but is believed to be a relative of the victims.  The afternoon shooting resulted in a chaotic scene with numerous witnesses calling 911.  Tixier says detectives are still conducting several interviews and have not determined a motive. 

The University of New Mexico is denying a claim by Lt. Gov. John Sanchez that it bought or sold fetal tissue.  The school's Health Sciences Center issued the statement Sunday, a day after Sanchez posted the allegations on Facebook.  In the posting, Sanchez says a congressional investigation determined that the center allegedly harvests and infant body parts through its relationship with Southwestern Women's Options Clinic.  KOB-TV reports that center officials say any fetal tissue was obtained from women who agreed to donate for research.  The center also says it has followed all federal laws involving fetal tissue research.  According to the school, a House panel has issued subpoenas for depositions from two faculty members and related documents.  The school terminated its relationship with the clinic in December.

The New Mexico Department of Corrections is inviting a team of outside law enforcement and prison experts to review what went wrong in the recent escape of two violent felons from a transport van.  Agency spokeswoman Rose Bobchak said Friday that initial input from the group suggests the escape is linked to failures to adhere to existing protocols, and to a lesser extent with existing policies and controls.  The Corrections Department says its review will look at possible security breakdowns extending from corrections guards to top prison administrators.  State Police have not concluded a criminal investigation into the escape and say more arrests are possible.  A corrections union representative says the state of New Mexico plans to fire two guards who were in charge of a transport van when two violent felons escaped.  AFSCME union spokesman Miles Conway said Friday the two corrections officers received notices of contemplated action for termination from the state Corrections Department.  State officials have declined to state how the shackled inmates slipped by transport officers Taracina Morgan and Michael Ortega during a fuel stop March 9 along a remote New Mexico highway. The escape went undetected for hours before the transport van arrived in Las Cruces.  Authorities re-apprehended inmates Joseph Cruz and Lionel Clah on March 11 and 12.

The Albuquerque Sunport police chief and three officers are on leave over confiscated drugs that went missing.  KOAT-TV reports that Aviation Police Chief Marshall Katz, Deputy Chief Timothy Esquibel and officers Johnny Moraga and Lisa Cheromiah are all on paid administrative leave while the city investigates.  According to attorneys for Katz, Sunport police seized drugs during a traffic stop last month.  Attorneys say the officers attempted to take the drugs to an Albuquerque police substation but could not get inside, so they put them in a Sunport police locker.  Some of the drugs later went missing.  City officials declined to go into detail about the city's investigation.  In a separate case Katz was suspended last year for misusing official resources for personal benefit.