Albuquerque Public Schools board member Analee Maestas is blaming nearly $700,000 in questionable transactions at La Promesa Early Learning Center on her daughter’s substance abuse problems.
Maestas, who founded the school in 2008, said she would “never jeopardize her reputation or her long career in childhood education by participating” in the alleged embezzlement uncovered by the Office of the State Auditor, according to a statement from her attorney, Marc M. Lowry.
“Until this report was issued, Dr. Maestas had not been aware of the criminal activity alleged in the State Auditor’s report,” Lowry said in the emailed statement. “Not a single audit over the six years in question identified the specific problem highlighted in the State Auditor’s report.”
Julieanne Maestas – La Promesa’s former assistant business manager – diverted about half a million dollars from the charter school into her personal bank account from June 2010 to July 2016, according to State Auditor Tim Keller’s investigation.
In addition, she 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 school vendor.
The Journal has not been able to reach Julieanne Maestas.
Analee and Julieanne Maestas both left their positions at La Promesa in September 2016, and Julieanne “became extremely depressed,” according to Lowry’s statement.
Analee Maestas sought medical treatment for her daughter and “learned, for the first time, that Julieanne had developed a very serious substance abuse problem,” Lowry said.
“Dr. Maestas’ attempts to enroll her daughter into a treatment program after that diagnosis were unsuccessful,” he said. “Dr. Maestas now understands that Julieanne’s unresolved substance abuse problem is directly related to the issues highlighted within the State Auditor’s report.”
Lowry noted that Keller’s investigation did not find that Analee Maestas committed any wrongdoing.
During the six years Julieanne Maestas allegedly diverted school funds, the New Mexico Public Education Department audited La Promesa annually using an independent auditor, but never flagged possible fraud or embezzlement.
“The State Auditor’s report does not claim that any of Julieanne’s supervisors, including Dr. Maestas, was aware of, or participated in, the purported scheme to embezzle school funds,” Lowry said.
Maestas attended Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting, but did not address the allegations.
On Tuesday, Officer Tanner Tixier, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, told the Journal that APD expects to file charges against one to three people involved in the case 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.”
Keller’s “risk review” outlines specific potential criminal violations, including fraud, embezzlement, larceny and forgery.
La Promesa Early Learning Center was founded by 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.
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. Analee 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 her home.
Keller’s office investigated the receipt and issued a report, which raised concerns about nepotism in La Promesa’s administration.
“In effect, the Assistant Business Manager (daughter) reports to the Executive Director (mother),” the Office of the State Auditor’s 2016 report says. “At a minimum, this creates appearance of impropriety.”
The New Mexico Public Education Department assumed control of La Promesa’s finances in August 2016.