ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Criminal charges may be imminent against several people connected to La Promesa Early Learning Center after the Office of the State Auditor uncovered questionable transactions totaling nearly $700,000 at the Albuquerque charter school.
Officer Tanner Tixier, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said APD hopes to file charges against one to three people by the end of the month.
“Our organized crime and white collar crime unit is conducting an investigation,” he said. “We are working very closely with District Attorney Raúl Torrez and his team to determine what charges will be necessary.”
La Promesa Early Learning Center was founded by Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Analee Maestas in 2008. The K-8 state charter school at 7500 La Morada Place NW serves a large number of bilingual and low-income students.
Board President Dave Peercy told the Journal Tuesday that he and the other board members can vote to censure Maestas, but they can’t force her to resign.
Peercy said he does not anticipate a censure based on criminal charges alone.
“If there were criminal convictions or something, I suppose there are ways to deal with that, but that is a long way down the line — that’s a lot of assumptions there,” he said. “The process is to see what the real details are. I don’t know that Analee had anything to do with the particular things. Maybe she did. That’s for the judicial system to decide.”
State Auditor Tim Keller’s recent investigation of the school determined that about half a million dollars were diverted from La Promesa into a former employee’s personal bank account between June 2010 and July 2016.
La Promesa identified the former employee as Maestas’ daughter, Julieanne Maestas, who was then the school’s assistant business manager.
In addition, Julieanne Maestas deposited about $177,000 worth of checks that were payable to the former executive director — her mother — as well as to her boyfriend, who was a vendor for the school, according to the state auditor’s report.
Julieanne Maestas was previously contracted to do accounts payable at Gilbert L. Sena Charter High School in Albuquerque. The school’s business manager is reviewing bank statements to make sure there are no irregularities, according to executive director Nadine Torres.
Torres said Maestas worked two days per week during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, and she did not have authority to sign checks.
“I am confident that at Gilbert Sena Charter High School we have procedures and internal controls in place to ensure that this (embezzlement) would not happen here,” Torres said. “We feel that it would be a good idea just to make sure.”
Analee Maestas and her attorney did not respond to a request for comment. The Journal could not reach Julieanne Maestas.
Keller’s “risk review” outlines specific potential criminal violations, including fraud, embezzlement, larceny and forgery.
Analee and Julieanne Maestas left their positions at La Promesa in 2016, though Analee Maestas remains on the APS board.
Voters do have the power to remove Maestas from the board.
A petition for a recall election would require the signatures of about 200 of her constituents — 33.3 percent of the voters who turned out to elect her in 2015.
La Promesa’s financial issues came to light in February 2016 after the school submitted a suspicious receipt to the New Mexico Public Education Department for reimbursement. Maestas claimed the $342.40 invoice was for carpet cleaning at the school, but it appeared to have been written over, and the cleaning company reported that it actually worked on ducts at Maestas’ home.
The New Mexico Public Education Department assumed control of La Promesa’s finances in August 2016.
Albuquerque Journal staff writer Rick Nathanson contributed to this report.