Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is demanding the immediate resignation of Analee Maestas from the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education after fraud and embezzlement allegations involving the charter school she founded and managed.
“School board members have a duty to treat their position as a public trust and at all times act in a manner that justifies the public's confidence in them,” Balderas said in a statement.
Balderas emailed a letter to Maestas on Monday saying “it is clear that you are no longer qualified to hold your position as a board member” and that if she did not immediately resign, “my office will take all appropriate legal actions.”
Maestas' attorney, Marc M. Lowry, said she has no plans to step down.
“The Attorney General's letter is more concerned with capturing a headline than it is with the pursuit of the truth,” Lowry said in an emailed statement.
“Dr. Maestas has not engaged in any conduct that violated her oath of office with the APS Board, or any other law. Dr. Maestas has brought over 45 years of experience and commitment to childhood education to uphold her oath to APS and maintain the public's trust, and used her APS office only to advance the public benefit. The Attorney General is wrong to suggest otherwise.”
Balderas' letter mentions two reviews by state Auditor Tim Keller that found serious problems with apparent misuse of funds regarding La Promesa Early Learning Center, the charter school Maestas started in 2008.
This month, Keller released a report that said it appeared Maestas' daugther, the school's then-assistant business manager, had embezzled nearly $500,000 under the watch of Maestas. And an earlier report in February 2016 showed that the school submitted a suspicious receipt to the New Mexico Public Education Department for reimbursement when Maestas claimed the $342.40 invoice was for carpet cleaning at the school. However, it appeared the receipt had been written over and the cleaning company reported that it actually worked on ducts at her home.
In his letter, Balderas wrote that “those investigations appear to implicate potential violations of numerous criminal and civil statutes.”
“While those matters are pending, the New Mexico Constitution does not require that you be found guilty of any conduct related to them to be declared unfit to hold your office, and your oath to uphold the very same Constitution now demands your resignation,” he wrote to Maestas.
But Lowry said that “if the Attorney General had read the State Auditor's report, he would understand that Dr. Maestas is innocent, and that the State Auditor did not make a single finding suggesting that Dr. Maestas participated in that report's allegations of embezzlement or fraud.”
Last week, Maestas denied any knowledge of the financial mismanagement at her school and blamed her daughter's substance abuse problems.
Julieanne Maestas diverted about half a million dollars from the charter school into her personal bank account from June 2010 to July 2016, according to 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.
Analee and Julieanne Maestas both left their positions at La Promesa in September 2016, and Julieanne “became extremely depressed,” according to a statement Lowry emailed to media last week.
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.
Attempts to reach Julieanne Maestas have been unsuccessful.
Regarding the carpet-cleaning receipt, Maestas has denied any wrongdoing, and the Public Education Department is continuing its investigation.
On Friday, the New Mexico Education Improvement Project – an education organization launched by four former APS board candidates – announced a recall effort against Maestas.
Doug Brown, New Mexico Education Improvement Project secretary, told the Journal that a competent school leader would have noticed money was missing from La Promesa.
The Albuquerque Police Department White Collar Crime Unit is investigating, and charges could be filed against one to three people, according to officer Tanner Tixier.
Maestas represents District 1, which includes Atrisco Heritage Academy and Rio Grande High School. Her term runs out in 2019.
The APS board has said it would not take any action against Maestas because she has not been convicted of a crime. Balderas' letter made it clear he did not believe a conviction was necessary for her to be “unfit” to hold her position on the board.
Balderas sent copies of the letter to the APS school board, the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Department of Education, Christopher Ruszkowski, District Attorney Raúl Torrez and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden.