ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It's an impressive work of art, but the controversy dogging the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation is not about creativity. It's about taxpayer's money.
The foundation owes the state nearly $150,000 in repayment for misspent state tax dollars.
That's about half the original debt, but a year has passed with another payment nowhere in sight.
Now state leaders are getting antsy, and the foundation's CEO is on her way out.
The Legislature paid out more than $800,000 to fund the 4,000-square-foot mural with the money paid straight to the cultural center's foundation.
But as KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker uncovered last year, a good chunk of that money went into the foundation's pocket for DVDs and even a documentary rather than the mural.
An audit found the foundation misspent about $285,000 of taxpayer money.
Last April, the foundation's CEO and former New Mexico first lady Clara Apodaca promised to pay the state back eventually.
"Absolutely," she said then. "But we'll have to raise it."
Nearly half of the money was paid back immediately. Since then, not a dime, meaning the foundation still owes the state $146,000.
"They haven't come up with definitive plans," Gov. Susana Martinez said Wednesday. "It's been over a year now.
"We've written many demand letters to say that you need to pay us back the money that you owe the state. I don't know if they're having challenges in fundraising, but they really need to make that a priority."
Now it looks like there will be a change in leadership.
The foundation board's vice chair told KRQE News 13 Apodaca will step down from her job in November citing family reasons.
It's unclear when the foundation will pay the state its mural money, but the board says it is working on a plan.
The board told News 13 they're waiting for receipts from their biggest fundraiser of the year to come in to see how quickly the foundation can pay the state back.
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