N.M. Reviewing Spaceport Policies

The review is part of an ongoing investigation into Spaceport America's chief executive.

The road to Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019.
The road to Spaceport America near Upham, New Mexico, Aug. 15, 2019.
AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state's top economic development officials are asking the New Mexico attorney general to review policies and procedures that govern spending and contracts at Spaceport America as part of an ongoing investigation into the conduct of the spaceport's chief executive officer.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes made the request in an email sent Tuesday to Attorney General Hector Balderas. She said her agency's investigation has raised questions and concerns regarding the interpretation of statutory governance and procedures under the state Spaceport Development Act.

Balderas confirmed Wednesday that his office will be looking at whether state law requires the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to approve all procurement and requests for proposals and whether tax revenues meant to support the launch facility are limited to specific projects.

“The spaceport receives public funding and must be legally accountable to New Mexican taxpayers, and we are reviewing this matter to ensure funding was lawfully spent as the Legislature intended,” Balderas said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Hicks, who was appointed by Spaceport Authority board members in 2016, was placed on administrative leave after former financial officer Zach De Gregorio accused him of circumventing internal financial controls and accounting procedures. De Gregorio later resigned, and Hicks has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

The state Economic Development Department hired an outside accounting firm to review procurement procedures as well as agreements governing the use of gross receipts tax revenues.

The state auditor’s office is reviewing financial aspects related to the spaceport, and the spaceport's interim chief executive told lawmakers last week that all capital projects at Spaceport America also are being assessed because of the open investigation.

Keyes said her agency's interpretation of state statutes suggests that gross receipts tax revenues shouldn't be used for spaceport operations or employee salaries.

Located in a remote stretch of southern New Mexico, Spaceport America is billed as the world’s first installation built specifically for the burgeoning commercial space industry to ferry paying passengers to the lower fringes of space and launch other payloads into orbit.

Spaceport officials say they have landed some new tenants and that anchor tenant Virgin Galactic is on track to start flights next year following a round of final testing that is scheduled for this fall.

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