The NMFishbowl Podcast: Larry Barker

By Daniel Libit

For all the recent scandals in the University of New Mexico’s athletic department, nothing has captured the zeitgeist quite like the 2015 booster golf trip to Scotland arranged by former Athletic Director Paul Krebs. Although, by real dollar figures, it was a comparatively modest waste of taxpayer resources, the specific details of the trip and the pains taken to conceal how it was paid for have not only kept Scotland in the headlines, but have turned it into the subject of an aggressive criminal investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General.

The journalist who originally broke the Scotland story is a familiar face with a familiar mustache in the Land of Enchantment. KRQE investigative reporter Larry Barker has been digging into New Mexico public corruption for over four decades. But as Barker tells me in the finale of The NMFishbowl Podcast, Lobo sports has not typically been a quarry he’s looked to mine.

“Throughout my career, I have done very, very few stories on the UNM athletic department,” Barker says. “It just has not been on my radar.”

That most certainly has changed over the last year-and-a-half, as Barker not only broke the Scotland scandal story but also reported on hundreds of thousands of dollars of Pit suite and club seat revenue that the university failed to collect.

With indications that the AG is beginning to wrap up at least the Krebs-related component of its UNM Athletics investigations, and as one should anticipate a flurry of legal activity in the new year, Barker and I plumb the depths of Scotland to close out a most scandalous 2018. You can listen to our full conversation by clicking below (or download it on iTunes here):

Barker recalls first being tipped about Scotland last spring.

“Honestly, it sounded far-fetched to me,” Barker says. “Why would UNM spend public money to go on a golfing holiday in Scotland?”

After submitting a public records request, Barker eventually found documentary proof that the university had, in fact, forked over nearly $25,000 of public funds to pay the overseas lodging and golfing fees of Krebs, head men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club Executive Director Kole McKamey.

In an on-camera interview, UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah conceded the obvious to Barker: “It doesn’t look good that the university spent money to go…to Scotland for a golf trip.”

Krebs told Barker that, in “hindsight,” he would have considered a “different source of funding” for the trip. Still, Krebs insisted that the overseas junket, which his family accompanied him on, was fundraising work for the university and not a personal vacation he should have paid for out of his own pocket.

But that turned out to only be the beginning of the epic poem the Scotland bard would tell, much to Barker’s own surprise.

“We did that story and we kind of moved on to other things,” Barker says. “And then, about three weeks later, I got a call from Acting UNM President Abdallah. And he called to say, ‘You know, there has been a development in the Scotland golf trip story and I need to level with you.'”

Since Barker’s original segment had aired, Abdallah said Krebs had come to him to share a few other not-so-insignificant details, which he had first neglected to mention.

“And that is when Paul Krebs dropped this bombshell that it wasn’t just Neal, Krebs and McKamey,” says Barker, “but there were also several local businessman, donors to the athletic program, who also went on that trip and the university paid their way.”

Barker reported these revelations in a follow-up segment on May 22, 2017, noting that the scandal now implicated possible criminal violations of the state’s anti-donation laws.

In all, UNM spent a total of $64,949 for the trip, half of that to pay the ways of private individuals.

“There’s no question in my mind it was wrong,” Abdallah told Barker on-air. Still, the interim president said that he found Krebs to be “an honorable man” who had made a “mistake.”

UNM told Barker the allocation of public dollars that had gone to pay for the boosters’ Scotland trips had been paid back to an “anonymous donor.” The May 22 segment concluded with Barker asking Abdallah whether he anticipated this would be their “last interview on golf trips to Scotland.”

“I sure hope so,” Abdallah said, with a telltale chuckle.

As we now know, some 18 months later, the so-called “anonymous donor” turned out to be Krebs, who went about an elaborate, if bumbling, attempt to keep this repayment secret. Several recent warrants executed by the Attorney General suggest that this effort has only further mired Krebs in criminal jeopardy.

Another key prong of the AG’s investigation into UNM athletics was also scooped by Barker last year: the six-figure tab of unpaid Pit suite and club seat fees. NMFishbowl.com reported in May 2017 about an email Krebs sent to McKamey and others, alluding to a past-due problem at what was then called WisePies Arena. Two months later, in July, Barker revealed the totality of the “suite surprise”: $432,641 in uncollected fees over a number of years. How did he find out?

“We did a public records request to the university for those records,” Barker says. “The response was, ‘We don’t have those records; those records are kept by the Lobo Club.’ We sent the Lobo Club a records request for those documents. They said, ‘We’re not a public institution. We don’t have to give you those records; we are private.’ I went back to the university, I went over the heads of the athletic department and to the administration and, honestly, I raised hell with them.”

Barker credits Abdallah for ultimately being “very helpful in getting us” the records showing how much the debtors owed the university for their premium Pit seats.

“It was like pulling teeth,” Barker says. “They did not give it willingly, but we didn’t have to go the way of a lawsuit.”

The Pit suite debacle not only provided glaring examples of individual failure, but also a larger picture of institutional chaos that made public accountability nearly impossible.

“I’m not sure anybody outside the university athletic department even understands the relationship between the Lobo Club, the [UNM] Foundation and the athletic department,” says Barker. “It is really murky.”

Barker is the tenth and final guest of The NMFishbowl Podcast, which kicked off in September with a two-hour discussion between me and current UNM head men’s basketball coach Paul Weir. The series is being brought to a close so that I can launch a new, nationally focused college sports podcast sometime in early 2019. I will announce more details about that project on this website and my Twitter feed.

Here are some additional reading materials and useful links…

Featured Photo Courtesy of KRQE