New Mexico attorney general goes after rooftop solar company

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A residential rooftop solar provider that operates in New Mexico and 20 other states was accused Thursday by the state attorney general of defrauding residents and jeopardizing their home ownership through deceptive sales practices.

Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit in state district court against Vivint Solar, Inc. over claims that the company was engaging in a pattern of unfair and unconscionable business practices, fraud and racketeering.

The case centers on the company’s door-to-door sales tactics and agreements made with customers to purchase power from the solar panel systems. Similar complaints by prosecutors in other states have resulted in settlements.

Vivint said it takes the allegations seriously but believes the lawsuit lacks merit.

"Our commitment to our customers is to provide them the opportunity to adopt clean, renewable energy while always adhering to the highest ethical sales standards. We believe we have honored this commitment in New Mexico and that our practices in the state comply with applicable law," company spokeswoman Helen Langan wrote in an email.

New Mexico prosecutors say an investigation has identified hundreds of clouded titles among Vivint’s customers in the state.

According to the complaint, Vivint binds New Mexico consumers into 20-year contracts that require consumers to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels installed on their homes at rates that increase by over 72 percent during the 20 years.

Prosecutors alleged the sales model allows staff to overstate the cost savings to consumers and to tell consumers that they may save 50 percent or more on their rates compared to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, an electric utility that serves much of the state.

"Consumer complaints highlight the cumulative impact of Vivint’s multiple false statements and unfair business practices from the initial door-to-door sales pitch through design of solar systems to the billing for their production," the complaint states.

The complaint also accuses Vivint of filing improper notices in consumer real estate records. In some cases, prosecutors say the documentation makes it difficult for consumers to sell their homes.

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Verizon is an ABF 2018 Healthiest Employers Awards honoree – Albuquerque Business First

Albuquerque Business First is hosting its sixth Healthiest Employers Awards to honor 18 companies in New Mexico that have succeeded in creating healthy workplaces for its employees.

The 2018 Healthiest Employers Awards will take place at the Health Summit on Thursday, March 8 at the Albuquerque Convention Center. The awards event will be preceded by a health panel discussion led by various New Mexico health care professionals.


Giant company category honoree (more than 5,000 employees)

This nationwide telecommunications company recognizes the correlation between healthy employees and productive employees. Verizon has invested in onsite health and wellness centers throughout the country, and New Mexico is no exception.

Verizon employees have access to an onsite gym facility, locker rooms, showers and two full-time health & wellness coordinators. These wellness professionals organize health events, fitness classes and individualized training programs to help employees stay healthy and fit both in and out of the office.

Both employees and their families are invited to participate in activities such as co-ed sports leagues, weekend hikes and community outreach. The company also holds quarterly charity drives in partnership with local schools, Roadrunner Food Bank and local domestic violence shelters.

Verizon’s benefits package includes a free tobacco cessation resource called QuitNet, which employees and their spouses can utilize. There is also a Backup Care Advantage program designed to provide temporary care for children or elderly family members.

The interactive online program, WellConnect, provides employees a portal to navigate their health statistics and monitor their progress.

When it comes to diet, Verizon encourages employees to eat healthy by providing healthier rewards and incentives through the onsite cafe. Employees can also take advantage of the call center’s game room and zen room, where they can engage in a ping pong battle or meditation break between taking calls.

Companies nominated themselves for the Healthiest Employers awards and completed an online survey of their wellness programs designed by Healthiest Employers LLC Albuquerque Business First’s survey partner. The survey was developed with input from doctors, human resources professionals and corporate executives. Each employer was scored using the Healthiest Employer Index, which measures factors such as an organization’s wellness culture, strategy, communications, programming and analysis. The highest scorers are our honorees.

New Mexico’s 2018 Healthiest Employers Awards is sponsored by True Health New Mexico Inc.

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New Mexico teen’s school absence unnoticed before his death

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A New Mexico boy who authorities say endured years of abuse and was found buried along the side of a rural highway had not attended school for several months.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported earlier this week Jeremiah Valencia’s mother, Tracy Pena (PEN-ya) pulled him out of a Las Vegas, New Mexico, middle school in February 2017 and told school officials she would enroll him in a Santa Fe school, but she never did and the school and state did not notice.

Police say Valencia had been out of school for at least seven months before he died.

Officials say they did not discover the 13-year-old’s body until two month after his estimated death in November because no one reported Valencia as missing.

Pena’s boyfriend, Thomas Ferguson, is accused of beating Valencia to death.

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Connect NM program graduates 30 professionals

These professionals are the latest graduates of Leadership New Mexico’s Connect New Mexico program. (Courtesy of Leadership New Mexico)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thirty young professionals from around the state have graduated from Leadership New Mexico’s Connect New Mexico program.

Open to professional 25 to 40 years old, Connect New Mexico The Next Generation of Leadership is designed to help participants develop personal leadership skills, learn how New Mexico systems and structures work, and explore critical issues facing the state, according to a news release from the organization.

Graduating from the eleventh class of the program were: Angela Baca, business banking relationship manager, U.S. Bank; Aly Bachechi, senior financial analyst, U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union; Emily Brudenell, architect and partner, The Hartman & Majewski Design Group; Molly Calvani, project manager, NCA Architects; Tracy Chiado, marketing manager, Wilson & Co. Inc., Architects & Engineers; Natalie Chiha, business management professional, Sandia National Laboratories; Brooke Dixon, health system specialist/group practice manager, Department of Veterans Affairs; John Foley, executive strategy professional, Sandia National Laboratories; Lynn Goldstein, NERC CIP program manager, PNM; Scott Koller, electrical engineer, Bridgers & Paxton Consulting Engineers; Josh Lujan, client executive, HUB International Insurance; Amanda Guth, human resources specialist, Haverland Carter Lifestyle Group, La Vida Llena; Meghannraye Sutton, accounting manager, DMC Logistics; and Nate Wells, executive director, Heritage Hotels & Resorts.

Leadership New Mexico is dedicated to identifying and enhancing leadership by providing a forum to identify and explore the challenges and opportunities facing New Mexico. Participants are drawn from diverse ethnic, gender, regional and business backgrounds.

Applications are being accepted for the 2018-2019 Connect New Mexico Program and 2018-2019 Core Program. The deadline for applications is March 15. For an application visit or call 505-398-1500.

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Skipti takes Airbnb concept to next level

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Rich Engstrom, second from right, chats with Michael Arner, front, while meeting with Ioana Engstrom, left, and Lynn Platow, right, as they discuss Skipti, which is designed to connect owners of household goods with people who want to rent them. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Uber and Airbnb have turned the sharing economy into a global phenomenon, but the next big thing in peer-to-peer online rental services may carry a Made-in-New Mexico stamp.

Skipti, the new platform, will launch in June to connect owners of household goods with people who want to rent them, courtesy of longtime Albuquerque entrepreneurs Rich and Ioana Engstrom.

It’s been two years in the making, starting with Rich Engstrom’s original Skipti eureka! moment in fall 2015, followed by an 18-month effort to build foundational software in partnership with Romanian engineers. In the process, the Engstroms have assembled a team of internet professionals to take the business forward.

Skipti executives, including Michael Arner, left, meet in Albuquerque with Mike DePace from Boston, Radu Busuioc from Romania, and J. Pablo Puerta from San Francisco. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

That includes renowned sharing-economy guru Juan Pablo Puerta, a Spaniard who built craigslist into a worldwide brand and who led international expansion efforts for Yahoo Search, Etsy and SoundCloud. Puerta came out of semi-retirement to lead Skipti as CEO because of the concept’s potential.

“It’s a model that makes sense, with a platform that’s built to basically rent out anything,” Puerta said. “Skipti is fundamentally an Airbnb for everything.”

Through Skipti, which means “exchange” in Icelandic, people with things to rent can rapidly upload photos and descriptions of items onto the platform with a suggested price tag. They log rental availability onto Skipti’s built-in calendar, allowing renters to select items and pay for them with a few finger clicks. That automatically alerts Skipti partner to pick up the rented good from its owner, deliver it to the renter and return it again afterward based on the times and dates logged on the calendar.

Unlike other sharing platforms, that process eliminates “meet-ups,” making transactions safer and easier for participating parties, said Ioana Engstrom, the company’s head of investor relations. All rental items are insured against theft, breakage or bodily injury.

“Owners can rent practically anything, from cameras, costumes and party stuff to tools, baby equipment or even books for students,” Ioana said. “They can also create bundled rentals, say for a weekend camping trip with all the needed equipment delivered in a single package.”

Skipti earns a 15 percent charge on each transaction, but the company says cost comparisons for dozens of household items show Skipti renters could save an average of 42 percent compared with traditional rental services.

Skipti basically puts everybody’s “excess capacity” to work by pulling idle goods out of closets and garages, said Rich Engstrom.

“It’s the same concept as Uber, where people who don’t use their car all the time can now make money off that ‘excess capacity’ by connecting up with people who need rides,” he said. “But in this case, there’s no driving around at night, and someone else will pick up the items and return them to owners.”

Some estimates indicate that about $1.6 trillion in excess stuff is sitting around unused in U.S. homes, Engstrom added.

The Skipti concept is based on today’s growing population of baby boomers and others who live on fixed incomes and need extra money. That, combined with the millennial generation’s preference for renting or leasing things rather than owning them, constitutes the company’s target market.

The official launch starts June 16 in Boston, chosen for its millennial population of university students, large community of fixed-income homes and the city’s reputation for embracing sharing services like Uber and Airbnb. The initial launch will last three months, providing critical feedback to improve Skipti’s platform before spreading nationwide and beyond, Ioana said.

Company executives have invested nearly $1 million of their own sweat equity and capital. They’ve also raised $500,000 in seed funding and are now working on a $2.5 million round of venture investment with help from a Utah fund.

The company will remain headquartered in Albuquerque, where the Engstroms and two other Skipti executives live. The full eight-member team, however, meets virtually every week at RIEtech Global, a manufacturing company run by Rich Engstrom in the north Interstate 25 industrial corridor.

All the executives have their own businesses, but they’re now focusing full time on Skipti.

“We’ve all stepped back from operational roles in our own companies to dive into this, because we believe it could be bigger than anything we’ve done before,” said Skipti Chief Branding Officer Lynn Platow, a digital design executive from New York.

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GAAR data shows improvements for central NM – Albuquerque Business First

Albuquerque’s housing market saw bright spots of improvement last year compared to 2016.

According to Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS data, the metro area saw improvement in homes sold and in home pricing compared to 2016. Single-family detached home sales rose 6.9 percent to 11,477 units, with the median sale price also rising 3.8 percent to $196,900. And condo and townhome sales rose 11.1 percent from 2016 with the median sale price sitting at $142,000 compared to $140,000 in 2016.

“The Albuquerque metro area’s housing market was very active in 2017,” wrote Danny Vigil, 2018 president of the Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS, in a statement. “Since more homes sold at a higher price point, our local housing market grew to $292 billion in 2017. That’s up by more than 12 percent from 2016.”

GAAR data also showed the majority of homes were sold within the first 60 days of being on the market – 56 percent sold within the first 30 days on the market.

Twilight Homes, which was in the top five on Business First’s 2016 Homebuilders List, reported 2017 was a record-breaking year for the company with sales increasing 30 percent from 2016.

“What’s so significant about our sales last year is that home sales in New Mexico have been flat for at least five years,” Twilight President Tim McNaney said. “For us to see a 30 percent increase in this environment is huge.”

McNaney, whose co-president is Vincent Pizzonia, said the highest volume of sales was in the Albuquerque area. He credits a "hands-on" approach to home building, saying Twilight is highly accessible because it’s local.

Twilight Homes is planning on seeing an approximate 40 percent increase in sales in 2018 based on current projections.

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How to find out about $160K in scholarships for New Mexico students

High school students celebrate their graduation with many looking forward to college, but not the costs associated with higher education. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

The Albuquerque Community Foundation, which manages $160,000 in scholarships available to New Mexico students, has announced details and deadlines for 19 awards programs.

Each was established by a individual or family with individual interests and priority areas, the news release said.

Requirements vary for each program. Most can be applied for online at

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Fairfield hotel opens in North I-25 ‘restaurant row’

The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott recently opened in the North I-25 corridor. (Courtesy of Marriott)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With New Mexico’s tourism numbers rising, tourism promoters are always eager to see more hotel rooms coming on line for business and leisure travelers.

A series of openings by Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Santa Fe and Albuquerque should help on the lodgings front, specifically the Duke City Fairfield that recently opened for business along “restaurant row” in the North Interstate 25 corridor.

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Crime Can Happen Anywhere

I have this friend who lives in a small town and she believes that this makes her exempt from being the victim of a crime. That is a ridiculous notion, especially since I know that things can happen regardless of where you live. I used to think the way she did until recently, but I know better now.

I think that people believe that cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago are the only place where random acts of gang violence happen, but that is not true. I have a cousin who lives in Little Rock and he can tell you that there are rough people all over his city. I also know a few people in Connecticut who complain about gang activity all of the time.

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Discover The Uniquely Comfortable Climate Of Albuquerque New Mexico

What do you know about the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico? Think for a moment about what you would imagine the climate to be like. Do you picture a hot, desert climate? Maybe you already know that the city is high altitude, and therefore, are you thinking plenty of rain and possibly snow? Perhaps you have no clue, but you’re about to find out more about the weather in this great city and how residents seem to get to enjoy a little bit of everything.

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