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Balderas says he wants to protect whistleblowers

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By Don Pace

State Auditor Hector Balderas says he’s trying to make it easier to report fraud.

He recently launched New Mexico’s first statewide fraud and abuse hotline, 1-866-OSA-FRAUD. The toll-free hotline allows New Mexicans to report suspected governmental fraud and abuse anonymously, without fear of retaliation.

“By partnering with New Mexicans across the state and encouraging the reporting of fraud, waste and abuse, I firmly believe we can limit the financial scandals that have plagued New Mexico and save our taxpayers millions of dollars” Balderas said.

Balderas said the hotline is operated by an independent, out-of-state firm which is outside of New Mexico’s social and political structures.”

“It’s designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation” Balderas said.

The hotline is not intended solely for reporting fraud.

“We want to know about ethical questions, wasteful conduct and abusive practices.” Balderas said. “It may not be fraud, it could just be abuse of a process. National organizations estimate that we lose 5 percent of our budget to waste, fraud and abuse, and our budget is $6 billion.”

Five percent of $6 billion would be $300 million, a substantial savings in anyone’s book.

Legislation enacted in 2007, patterned after a federal statute, also protects citizens who report fraud and can result in a percentage of any recovery being awarded to the whistleblower.

The legislation allows citizens to sue on the state’s behalf when they have knowledge of a business or other entity defrauding the state government. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office can join in the lawsuit if it is determined that the case has merit. Balderas said that there have already been a couple of actions filed under this new statute.

“It’s important to send a message that everyone is watching and everyone can play a role in protecting their tax dollars,” Balderas said.