State attorneys general in New Mexico and New York are quizzing radio personality Don Imus about his San Miguel County ranch.
Imus and his wife, Deirdre, opened the 4,000-acre ranch between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, N.M., in 1999 as a summer camp for sick children.
But the New York-based charity’s multimillion-dollar annual budget and the Imus family’s use of the ranch’s well-appointed facilities have drawn scrutiny from government officials.
Sam Thompson, spokeswoman for New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, said Thursday that one concern is “the amount of money that’s being spent to the fairly small portion of children being served.”
The nonprofit ranch spent $2.6 million last year while hosting only about 100 children, The Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story Thursday . The newspaper said experts consider that an unusually high dollar-tochild ratio for a charity.
Imus’ radio rival, shock jock Howard Stern, repeatedly criticizes the Imus Ranch on his national broadcasts , calling it a summer home for Imus’ family and a “big scam.”
Attempts to reach Imus or a representative on Thursday were unsuccessful .
Imus, whose family stays at the ranch during holidays and other occasions , told The Wall Street Journal that claims he uses the ranch as a vacation home are “absurd.” Imus, 64, regularly talks about the ranch on his national radio program — which is simulcast on MSNBC television — and helps raise large sums from listeners, corporate executives and media celebrities.
The Wall Street Journal reported that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has asked Imus about his family’s use of the New Mexico ranch, which has a 14,000-squarefoot adobe mansion, swimming pool and billiard hall.
The report said Deirdre Imus, 40, decorated the seven-bedroom mansion with Asian and American Indian rugs, rustic chandeliers and an outdoor shower designed to look like Aztec ruins.
The San Miguel County assessor’s office ruled in 2000 that only 55 percent of the ranch should be exempt from property taxes because it is used for personal housing some of the time, the story noted.
But the ranch, located south of Interstate 25, just east of the turnoff to Ribera and Villanueva, retains its full nonprofit status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the article said.
Imus admitted to The Wall Street Journal that his ranch might be spending a large amount of money per child, but he said he doesn’t mind “if I thought it could change their lives.”
Thursday morning, however , Imus lashed out against Robert Frank, the reporter who wrote the story, during Imus in the Morning, which is carried by KNML-AM (610), “The Sports Animal,” in Albuquerque .
According to federal nonprofit documents on file with the New Mexico attorney general’s office, the Imus Ranch’s purpose is “to provide children with cancer, serious blood disorders, and the siblings of children who have been victims of sudden infant death syndrome, with the experience of the ranch life of the great American cowboy.”
The form says the ranch had a loss of about $319,000 during the fiscal year that ended Feb. 28, 2003.
Listed as a director, in addition to Imus and his wife, is his brother Fred Imus, who ran a business selling Tshirts , jackets, salsa and chips in Santa Fe until he relocated to the East in mid-2002 .
Thompson said the New Mexico attorney general’s office recently wrote legal counsel for the Imus Ranch, asking for information omitted on the IRS form, such as the number of children served.
“They have answered some, but we still feel more information is needed,” she said. “It had to do with salaries that are paid, and so the letter we’ll be sending out to them next week will have some more questions on things we would like to have answered.”
She also said: “We question the fact that they say they have no fund-raising expenses, because for a charity the size of Imus’ , that’s rather unusual.”