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Former Alma d’Arte employees and ex-business manager charged with embezzlement

LAS CRUCES – Two former employees of the Alma d’Arte Charter High School were charged Monday with multiple felonies stemming from a New Mexico State Police investigation last fall into fraud and embezzlement at the school.

The charges follow a criminal complaint filed in December against the school’s former business manager, who provided services to other charter schools in Las Cruces as well.

In sum, the three cases allege over $150,000 in misappropriated funds and related crimes.

The school’s former business manager, Juliette Rivera, was charged in December with embezzling over $120,000 across a 14-year period from 2004 to 2018. She was also charged with tampering with evidence and public records.

Rivera had also provided accounting services for La Academia Dolores Huerta, named as the school’s business manager as recently as 2018 on Public Education Department filings, but on Wednesday LADH principal Melissa Miranda told the Sun-News Rivera was not employed at the school.

Court records indicate that state police detectives also suspect Rivera of misappropriating $708 from J. Paul Taylor Academy when she worked for that school, for which she has been charged with embezzlement in a separate criminal complaint.

Police allege, based on an investigation by the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor, that Rivera “manipulated the reconciliation of the bank statements every month by paying herself extra monthly pay … and documenting the monies as being vendor payments.”

Rivera’s attorney declined to comment when reached Thursday morning.

Principal allegedly gave himself a raise

Alma d’Arte’s former principal, Mark Hartshorne, faces charges that he embezzled $20,000 from the school, tampered with records, committed forgery and conspired to commit embezzlement.

Hartshorne is alleged in the criminal complaint to have embezzled $20,000 from Alma d’Arte, as well as forging governing council president Gene Elliott’s signature authorizing a $7,000 raise in his salary for the 2017-18 school year, a raise not approved by the school’s governing board. Court documents further allege that Hartshorne received unauthorized stipends of $5,000 and $8,000.

Court documents state that when Hartshorne was interviewed by police, he complained that in approximately 10 years as principal “he never had one evaluation or pay raise,” and that he admitted signing Elliott’s name on three documents but said he did so with Elliott’s permission.

Hartshorne was charged Monday with embezzlement (over $2,500), forgery, tampering with evidence, tampering with public records, and conspiracy, all felony charges.

Hartshorne left the school in 2018, and was replaced at the start of the current school year by Holly Schullo. From 1991 to 2003, he served first as an assistant principal and, since 1995, as principal of Las Cruces High School.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Hartshorne declined to comment.

Additionally, the school’s former special education coordinator, Maggie Baber, was charged with embezzlement for allegedly receiving $11,500 above her authorized contract.

According to police, Baber told an investigator in January that she had submitted an invoice for a stipend in compensation for working additional hours on evenings and weekends in 2017. She stated she believed the stipend was approved by the principal, a claim Hartshorne denied to detectives.

However, the school told police that payroll records showed that in addition to the stipend, Baber had been paid $6,500 in addition to her regular paychecks, with the bonus payments deposited to a different bank account. Baber was charged with embezzlement (over $2,500) and conspiracy.

Baber left the charter school in September 2018, and joined the Las Cruces Public Schools the following month. The district confirmed Thursday that Baber remained an employee of the district, and is currently on leave.

Baber declined to comment when the Sun-News reached her Wednesday, citing the advice of her lawyer.

The three defendants have hearings scheduled in Doña Ana Magistrate Court in March.

Officials from Alma d’Arte did not respond to inquiries from the Sun-News for this story.

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonActor on Twitter.

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©2019 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)

Visit the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) at www.lcsun-news.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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