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After years of accusations, ex-Española teacher is finally charged

SANTA FE – A former grade-school teacher in the Santa Fe and Española public schools accused of improper contact with female students dating back many years – and previously the subject of lawsuits from girls’ families, including one that resulted in a $3.2 million settlement – now faces criminal charges.

Gary Gregor

Gary Gregor, 60, with an Española address, was indicted late last month on three counts of rape of a minor, four counts of kidnapping and five counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor.

The accusations against Gregor over the years have raised issues about how he managed to move    among different school districts, in different states, after facing repeated accusations of wrongdoing.

Before he came to New Mexico, he faced criminal child sex abuse charges in Utah that were dismissed in 1995 for lack of evidence. He also worked as an educator in Montana where, according to a New Mexico lawsuit, he was fired under a school policy barring after-school activities with students.

The April criminal indictment, handed down by a Rio Arriba County grand jury, say the alleged crimes in New Mexico took place during the 2007-2008 school year, when Gregor worked at Fairview Elementary School in Española. The indictment lists alleged crimes against two victims 12 years old or younger. Gregor pleaded not guilty at his court arraignment Friday.

The case is being prosecuted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. It’s unclear what prompted a criminal case against Gregor now. The accusations against him involving Santa Fe and Española students became public when the state Public Education Department rejected renewal of his teaching license in 2011.

“We cannot comment on these specific charges, but can say that Attorney General (Hector) Balderas is committed to utilizing Office of the Attorney General resources to ensure the protection of children,” said James Hallinan, spokesman for the AG’s Office. “Now that the defendant has been arraigned we are focused on preparing this case for trial.”

In December, the accusations that have trailed Gregor were cited in a major series of investigative reports by USA Today on how teachers who sexually abuse children continue to work in schools.

Last year, the Española school district settled a lawsuit that accused Gregor, fired by the district in 2010, of twice asking a fourth-grade girl to spend the night at his home, giving the girl gifts like candy and teddy bears and touching her private parts. The suit alleged a principal failed to report complaints about Gregor.

The settlement called for a $3.2 million payment, and the district may have to pay almost all of that amount itself instead of relying on insurance coverage. A private insurer has maintained the Española schools knew about potential claims against Gregor before coverage was provided. The insurance issue is in mediation.

Cammie Nichols, plaintiff’s attorney in the lawsuit, said in November that the Española girl’s family came to her law firm only after police investigated Gregor in 2009, turned information over to the District Attorney’s Office and “nothing was happening, so they became very, very frustrated.”

The suit also originally targeted Santa Fe schools for giving Gregor a “neutral reference” despite allegations of inappropriate behavior with minors before he resigned from SFPS in 2004. A judge dismissed SFPS from the case.

The Española district also faces a suit filed last year by Nichols for another former Gregor student, based on a similar set of facts. The latest suit says public records show Gregor disclosed to the New Mexico Public Education Department in 1998, before he got a teaching license here, that he had been fired from a Montana school district “for what they considered insubordination, school policy was that after school activities with students was (sic) not allowed.”

On Friday, Judge Jennifer Attrep set a $75,000 bond for Gregor. As of Monday, he was still in the Rio Arriba County jail.