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Slap on the wrist not punishment enough for fraud

The district attorney’s office in Las Vegas, N.M., says everybody gives a good account of Charles Trujillo, who faked his way into a $100,000-per-year job as superintendent of the Mora public schools.

None of those Trujillo worked for – including at the state Public Education Department, where he was head of licensure, and at Mora schools, where his uncle on the school board broke the tie to get him hired as superintendent – wanted him to go to jail for falsifying credentials like college transcripts, according to D.A. Richard Flores.

“To the contrary,” Flores said, Trujillo’s former bosses “advised that he did a good job as one of their administrators” and if not for that thing where he was accused of committing felony fraud to advance his career, “they would have likely continued to retain him as their administrator.”

Charles Trujillo

At this writing, there’s been no confirmation from PED that leaders of that state agency really believe that Trujillo was doing a good job as chief of the bureau that’s supposed to make sure educators meet the qualifications for their licenses. That would be a bit like a bank president saying a teller did a great job until he embezzled $100,000 and ran off to the Bahamas.

Trujillo was charged with 19 counts, mostly felonies for forgery and fraud. Flores’ office supported a plea deal where Trujillo pleaded guilty to one second-degree felony. That count will be wiped off his record if he keeps his nose clean for as little as 30 months of probation. Trujillo also has to give up $17,000 in retirement contributions he received while working at the Mora and Pecos schools (but none of the salary for work he was charged with obtaining by fraudulent means).

The Las Vegas Optic newspaper broke the story about Trujillo’s bogus credentials. The paper also raised questions about several other area educators. If Flores believes public exposure and a fall from grace was sufficient punishment for Trujillo, well, the Optic had already taken care of that.

Flores said in a statement after a judge approved the plea deal on Monday that his job as district attorney was to do justice, not revenge or retribution.

But the light sentence for Trujillo sends the wrong message to local bureaucracies and students. A school leader, in a school district’s ultimate job, cheated his way to the top. He got caught. In northeastern New Mexico, that’s apparently enough punishment.

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