Morning Word

AG Torrez Announces Alleged Child Predator Arrests Following Meta Sting

Santa Fe City Council approves budget for next fiscal year

AG Torrez announces three arrests in Meta sting

Following a months-long undercover investigation by the state Department of Justice, New Mexico law enforcement officials apprehended and arraigned three individuals accused of contacting and soliciting sex from underage decoy accounts on Meta, Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a press conference yesterday. The investigation—coined Operation MetaPhile—identified three men aged 29 to 52 who were communicating with decoy accounts of children under the age of 13. All three individuals sent pictures of their genitalia and talked with the supposed underage girls about having sex. Each of the arrests happened over the course of roughly two weeks, with the earliest taking place in late April. Two of the men face charges of child solicitation by electronic communication device and attempted criminal sexual penetration of a minor and one faces just the first charge, plus a third-degree felony. “It is frankly a wake up call for all of us to understand just how serious these kinds of threats are,” Torrez said. “And the kind of practices that are currently allowed to exist in the Meta platform is something I believe this draws attention to.” In December 2023, the New Mexico Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Meta, Mark Zuckerberg and other related platforms including Instagram and Facebook regarding the protection of children from sexual abuse and human trafficking. The complaint, Torrez says, describes “the way in which Meta’s algorithms and features enable” the behaviors of online child predators and traffickers.

Supreme Court revises pretrial detention rules

With pretrial detention remaining a controversial point of interest in advance of a special legislative session focused on public safety scheduled for July, the state Supreme Court yesterday issued revised rules “to promote public safety and require courts to reconsider the release conditions of defendants arrested for a new crime while awaiting trial,” a news release says. The new rules have been under consideration since last summer, were published for public comment in February and went into effect yesterday. “If a defendant is arrested on a new charge, the rule revisions require a judge to hold the person in custody until after the court handling the original criminal case decides whether to modify or revoke the previous conditions of release,” Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin says in a statement. Among other provisions, the new rules require people released with pending trials for felonies or some misdemeanor charges will be held in jail if they are rearrested on a felony or certain misdemeanors—such as DWI, aggravated battery and stalking—and held until the court to decides whether to modify the conditions under which they had been original released. If judges choose not to modify those conditions, they must issue orders explaining the decision—an action that was previously optional. “The new rules will help protect our communities while honoring the constitutional rights of people accused of a crime who are presumed innocent under the law,” AOC Deputy Director Karl Reifsteck says. The pretrial detention system has remained under debate, even after voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment amending the system to move away from one that tied people’s release to their ability to afford bond money.

City Council approves $440 million budget

Following a series of public hearings, the Santa Fe City Council at its regular meeting last night signed off on a budget for Fiscal Year 2025 spending focused on workforce, which includes $4 million for 3% across-the-board raises for all city employees; $8 million to implement the recommended increases from the recently completed classification and compensation study; and $19.7 million for employees’ health care and life insurance coverage. Overall, the $440.1 million budget represents a 6% increase in general fund expenditures—$7.8 million—over the original budget levels for FY24, fueled by unanticipated lodgers tax. The FY25 all funds expenditure is an increase of 9%, or $36.7 million. Other budget highlights include: $4.6 million for affordable housing initiatives and programs, including homebuyer assistance and low-income housing assistance; $365,257 for the arts and culture department’s grant funding for arts sponsorships and cultural programming; and a $2 million bump to the tourism department, with $4.2 million designated “for advertising and promotion of Santa Fe as a tourist destination.”

Luján, Leger Fernández introduce land grant bill

Proposed federal legislation would require better cooperation between the federal government and New Mexico’s land grant communities, of which there are 27. US Sen. Ben Ray Luján and US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, introduced the New Mexico Land Grant-Mercedes Historical or Traditional Use Cooperation and Coordination Act yesterday, following the introduction of an earlier version of the bill and multiple hearings in 2022. “Land grant communities have been responsible stewards of our land and are a critical part of New Mexico’s culture and history,” Luján says in a statement. “The federal government must prioritize cooperation and coordination with land grant communities to strengthen these communities’ rights.” Under the current system, the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management require the public, including land grant-mercedes, to seek authorization for some public land uses but not others. “Past confusion and lack of coordination have resulted in adverse impacts on the historical or traditional uses,” the news release notes. “Land grant communities represent farmers and ranchers, families, and elders. They care for and sustain our lands,” Leger Fernández says in a statement. “Today, we are taking steps to improve cooperation and communication between federal agencies and our land grant communities to make sure these communities are able to access lands for the historical and traditional uses they have been practicing for centuries.”

Listen up

At present, New Mexico public schools are in a holding pattern in finalizing their budgets pending a lawsuit the New Mexico School Superintendents Association and more than 50 school districts—including Santa Fe Public Schools—filed against the Public Education Department and its controversial rule requiring all districts operate with a minimum of 180 instructional days beginning with the 2024-2025 school year. Ninth Judicial District Judge Dustin Hunter last week issued a temporary restraining order against the ruling, with a hearing scheduled for next week. Today’s 8 am Let’s Talk New Mexico program on KUNM (89.9 FM and online) will discuss the issues at play. Email, call in live to (505) 277-5866 or leave a voice recording on the show page to join in the conversation.

Earthship music

Rolling Stone Magazine spotlights Chicago indie-rock trio Dehd’s new road-trip album Poetry (out May 10), the 2023 road trip portion of which was necessitated by bassist-singer Emily Kempf’s move to Taos in 2021, “after she bought an off-the-grid, ecofriendly home called an Earthship.” Kempf characterizes her Earthship as a “Hobbit-Star Wars bunker,” the story says, with “white rounded adobe walls, red brick floor, tchotchkes and plants everywhere, and huge greenhouse windows that look out at miles of blue sky, desert, and mountains. She first learned about Earthships in her twenties after watching a documentary, then rediscovered them during a bout of pandemic-era boredom. Her decision to move to Taos was fueled by some prepper tendencies, she admits with a laugh: ‘Weird shit’s about to happen. None of us are gonna survive the apocalypse, but I just want to feel better about it.’” The band wrote songs in the Earthship until it needed to recharge, being solar-powered. Because the house is made of dirt and tires filled with dirt, “the solid walls absorbed sound like a well-baffled studio space, making for cozy acoustics that encouraged songs like ‘Alien’ and ‘Dist B.’” Kempf, by the way, loves living in Taos and now has horses, chickens, dogs and a new baby highland bull calf. “I love being outside,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Now I’m literally a cowgirl in cow country.”

Cosmic Santa Fe

Fodors publishes an excerpt from the new University of New Mexico Press book Slow Travel New Mexico: Unforgettable Personal Experiences in the Land of Enchantment by Judith Fein, with photographs by Paul J. Ross—both Santa Fe residents. The excerpted essay, “I Saw Cosmic Visions at This Temple Complex in New Mexico,” delves into Fein’s experience visiting Stardreaming, described as “a 22-acre sacred stone temple labyrinth complex for the new millennium.” The story begins with Stardreaming’s creator James Jereb, whom Fein describes as a

“modern-day Hercules,” who “moved 300 tons of stone with a pipe and a crowbar and built 10 open-air temples on 22 acres of wide-open country under cotton ball clouds in an azure sky.” Stardreaming is approximately 30 miles outside of Santa Fe, Fein notes, and most people don’t know it exists. “Each of the temples is aligned to the sun, moon and stars,” Fein writes. “Many people walk through life looking down, but Stardreaming invites visitors to look up and sense their relationship to billions of stars and galaxies.” And no, she says, she’s not normally a “a very woo-woo person.” But Jereb’s temple produces interesting experiences that we won’t spoil here beyond noting the “cosmic visions” mentioned in the title. Guests, “depending upon their intention and willingness,” she writes, “may have a very personal and perhaps magical experience.” Jereb learned from ants in order to build Stardreaming, he says. “They are my allies, and I built the temples from the ant’s point of view.”

The joys of spring

The National Weather Service forecasts a 20% chance for rain today, with isolated showers after noon. Otherwise, it should be mostly sunny, with a high temperature near 66 degrees and northeast wind 10 to 15 miles becoming southeast 15 to 20 mph in the afternoon.

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