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Copyright 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)

 

Former University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs acknowledged in a draft retirement letter he wrote in early May that he initially withheld information about UNM paying for donors' expenses for a controversial Scotland golf fundraiser to protect the donors.

Meanwhile, Krebs forwarded a reporter's questions in April regarding the school's search for a basketball coach to Gov. Susana Martinez's top political adviser at the same time Krebs said Santa Fe did not have any involvement in the search.

Those are some of the details that emerged from emails recently obtained by the Journal from the final few months Krebs was athletic director.

According to the emails the Journal obtained as part of an inspection of public records request, Krebs also:

Told those who worked in the athletic department he wanted WisePies Pizza "protected" from the media and instructed his department to say as little as possible to reporters about the former naming rights holder of the Pit,

Began drafting his retirement letter to UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah in March, the same week now-former men's basketball coach Craig Neal was fired,

Used the word "mistake" seven times in the draft of a retirement letter, originally dated March 28 and written through on May 7. In the letter he said he needed to be held accountable for the Scotland golf trip and misled people asking about the trip "in order to protect our Athletic Department donors."

The draft was vastly different from his final, official retirement letter dated June 1 (he stepped down then, but used vacation and remained on payroll through June 30), which did not mention Scotland, any mistakes he should be held accountable for or men's basketball.

Nor did it mention the ongoing special audit by the state auditor's office or the investigation by the state attorney general's office, both of which were launched as news reports of the Scotland trip were published.

Krebs told the Journal via email last week he won't discuss the draft version of his retirement letter about the Scotland trip until after those investigations are complete.

"I have received your e-mail," Krebs wrote. "Until the audit is released, I will have no comment."

Abdallah said Monday he was not aware of Krebs' previous drafts of the retirement letter that spoke of being held accountable for mistakes or about protecting donors, and further comment would be reserved for after the audit's findings are released.

"We've wrapped up the field work and are now analyzing the data to develop the findings and recommendations," State Auditor Tim Keller told the Journal on Monday about the audit into athletics. "When the investigation is complete, we will release the report publicly."

His deputy chief of staff, Justine Freeman, said the audit is expected to be done in October.

James Hallinan, communications director for Attorney General Hector Balderas, said that office's investigation into whether there was a violation of law in the handling of public money for the Scotland trip is ongoing.

Political influence?

UNM fired coach Craig Neal on March 31. Soon rumors circulated that the governor's office was involved in the search for Neal's replacement, a rumor the governor's office denied.

Days after the Journal reported there were concerns around the Lobo basketball coaching search having political influence from Santa Fe, the Journal asked Krebs again in an email April 10 if that was the case.

Among the questions in the Journal's email: "The infighting about who is calling the shots on this search is something I want to flush out for a story. Are you making this hire? If not you, who all is in on the decision?"

Krebs forwarded that email about an hour later to Jay McCleskey, Martinez's political adviser, and asked: "Thoughts on a response. I am tempting to say I will address at a press conference. (sic)"

The following day, Paul Weir was hired as Lobo basketball coach and Krebs told the Journal at the introductory press conference Santa Fe did not influence the search in any way.

Last week, regarding the email he sent to McCleskey, Krebs told the Journal he "sought Jay's opinion about how to respond as a friend and a media strategist, and that was the extent of the conversation. I stand by my comments at the April 11 press conference that Santa Fe had zero influence in the coaching search and the ultimate decision to hire Coach Weir."

McCleskey did not return an email or voicemail left by the Journal seeking comment.

'I've made some mistakes'

In an email dated May 7, the week news reports of the 2015 Scotland trip surfaced, with an attachment titled "5-8-2017 Krebs retirement Letter," Krebs said he thought the news was worthy of his stepping down.

The retirement letter was actually dated March 28, the week Krebs was recommending that Neal be fired, but the May 7 draft had the earlier content written over and updated to cover the Scotland trip. Those emails were sent to his own email account and to another individual not affiliated with UNM.

A week earlier, Krebs admitted using public money for UNM employees to travel to Scotland in June 2015 with boosters on a fundraising trip but he did not reveal that the total bill of about $65,000 included money to pay for three boosters to attend the trip - which apparently violates the state's anti-donation clause.

It wasn't until May 23 that an official statement released on Krebs' behalf by UNM's main campus communications director stated, "In reviewing notes from the trip, we discovered internally that the outings for three donors were paid for via UNM athletics. ... The original plan was to have this reimbursed back, but in reviewing documents, it was noticed that this didn't happen."

In his May 7 retirement draft letter, Krebs wrote: "As a leader of young people I am held to a higher standard. ... I've made some mistakes and for that I have to be held accountable."

He also wrote that his mistakes were always "done to make things better for UNM athletics and UNM student-athletes."

But he also said his aim was to protect donors even over disclosure of how public money was used.

"In order to protect our Athletic Department donors, I did not reveal (to media) the additional $____ spent to pay donor expenses. ... I stand by my actions to protect our donors. ... Did I handle the reporting out about this trip inappropriately? Yes."

He later wrote, in an apparent reference to the media scrutiny surrounding WisePies Pizza, which had purchased naming rights to the Pit, "I have seen what happens to people who have stepped up and donated money to UNM Athletics, and that has never been more clear than in the last 24 months with the negative criticism and scrutiny that donors have endured. I wanted to protect our donors from that."

Since that time, revelations that some luxury sky boxes in the Pit had gone uncollected for years and totalled as much as about $400,000 owed to UNM from high dollar boosters and donors.

'Protect WisePies'

The Journal emailed Krebs April 6 asking if WisePies was up to date on payments and if "UNM received the entire $800,000 WisePies had agreed to pay up to this point in the agreement?"

Krebs forwarded the email to multiple people in the department instructing them not to say too much. In one email, he instructed Sports Information Director Frank Mercogliano, "Get with brad (Hutchins) and season (Elliott) on this. Less said the better but want to protect wisepies."

Since then, Dreamstyle Remodeling has stepped up and pledged $10 million to UNM for naming rights at the Pit, now officially Dreamstyle Arena, and UNM's football stadium, now Dream-style Stadium.

Both UNM and WisePies said it was current on its payments.

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