FARMINGTON — A year after Farmington's New Mexico Title Escrow Co. collapsed under suspicious circumstances, state Sen. Steven Neville is pushing a bill to tighten regulation on those businesses.

The Farmington Republican's bill would require escrow companies to annually renew their licenses. It also would make them provide a reviewed statement from a certified public accountant.

The legislation comes more than a year after New Mexico Title Escrow Co. closed amid complaints of missing money, leaving hundreds of customers without access to their funds.

"The escrow bill is to tighten up some of the problems that have existed," Neville said. "It's basically going to require a lot more accounting and a lot more oversight as to how they do business, and maybe we won't have another New Mexico Title situation."

An earlier draft of the bill would have required a full audit, but Neville is softening that aspect.

"We're going to back off of that a little bit," he said. "It's too expensive."

Neville said the state Regulation and Licensing Department asked him to carry the bill after the closure of New Mexico Title and another escrow business in Deming exposed flaws in the department's ability to regulate escrow services.

"This doesn't solve all the problems, but it does allow the state, a lot more closely, to monitor these companies," he said.

Escrow receiverships cost the state $298,000 in 2012, a legislative analysis said.

The bill includes a broad exemption from the state's public records law to protect the privacy of financial information and other documents.


The legislative analysis recommended narrowing the exemption to specific types of documents.

A local escrow agent said she supports Neville's efforts.

"I think there should be a little bit more control of things because of what happened with New Mexico Title," said Malessia Harris, account executive at Reliable Escrow in Aztec.

New Mexico Title Co. and New Mexico Title Escrow Co., two related businesses in west Farmington closed in January 2012 as customers began to complain of discrepancies in their accounts and demand answers.

The closures spurred investigations by state regulators and law enforcement. The New Mexico Financial Institutions Division continues to investigate.

Bobby Willis, a former owner of the companies, is charged with embezzlement, racketeering, fraud and securities fraud in a separate case involving his business partners.

Senate Bill 282 is before the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee.