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Former Northern NM College IT director files whistleblower suit against college

SANTA FE, N.M. — The former Information Technology director at Northern New Mexico College filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the college Monday alleging a litany of indiscretions by top college administrators, including misuse of federal funds, wasteful spending, gross mismanagement and retaliation against employees.

Angelo Jacques claims the college worked to punish and discredit him after he “objected to and/or refused to participate in activities at NNMC that constituted an unlawful or improper act.” He says being let go from his position after less than a year was “part of a pattern and practice of punitive actions taken by the high-ranking administrative officials of NNMC to silence criticism of their misconduct and to punish those who questioned their improper conduct.”

A NNMC spokesman on Tuesday said the college had not seen the lawsuit so could not comment. The college’s attorney, Tony Ortiz, did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.

College President Nancy “Rusty” Barcel√≥ was largely left out of the complaint, with most of the allegations of impropriety directed at Human Resources Director Bernie Padilla, Vice President of Finance and Administration Domingo Sanchez, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ricky Serna, and Finance Director Henrietta Trujillo.

Jacques claims that shortly after being hired to his position paying $95,000 per year in September 2012, he notified Sanchez that the college had no data integrity controls in place, leaving student social security and credit card numbers and other personal information vulnerable.

Jacques says he also discovered that NNMC administrators were using equipment earmarked for students with federal grant funds. He later learned that much of the technology equipment purchased with a $5 million federal grant could not be accounted for.

Jacques says on another occasion he let Sanchez know that NNMC was facing inventory losses of $2 million or more.

While Sanchez acknowledged the problems, Jacques says he did little or nothing to address the issues.

Jacques further claims he pointed out numerous issues with other software and service contracts that was costing the college hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He says he raised concerns with Serna about the Degree Works software program, designed to assist students in determining the best path for completing their degrees and purchased for about $118,000 with federal grant funds. Jacques says he told Serna that if the college didn’t launch the program it would be obligated to repay that amount and that it could be assessed a penalty for misuse of federal grant funds. Jacques claims that Serna responded with hostility, saying, “Don’t you know I’m in charge of all grants in the College?”

Another instance involved the purchase of a Point of Sale system for the cafeteria Jacques says was acquired without following the procurement code.

The lawsuit alleges that Trujillo chose a $8,500 bid over a $3,500 quote for a system that “far exceeded” what was needed and required an additional $1,800 payment for the system to be configured.

The lawsuit suggests the decision was made in collusion with a former purchasing agent, Linda Atencio, to allow Atencio’s son to receive the more expensive contract.

Jacques makes another allegation of nepotism against Padilla, who he says got Padilla’s son hired as a temporary summer employee in Jacques’ department, despite a lack of funds to support it. When Jacques questioned Padilla about bypassing the college’s hiring policies, Jacques says that Padilla repeatedly told him, “I took care of it.”

Another claim is that Jacques notified Sanchez and Padilla that while checking on a virus infection on one of the computers at the college, he discovered that it had been used to browse pornography websites, some of which appeared to involve child pornography. He says that to his knowledge no disciplinary action was ever taken against the person who used the computer to view porn.

Jacques also accuses Sanchez and Padilla of asking him to use his technology skills to “snoop around” the computers of some individuals in an effort to discover who was leaking information critical of administration that was showing up on social media. Jacques says he refused to do so, saying he thought it was “improper, unethical and possibly illegal.”

Jacques says shortly before he was fired in June of last year, his work-issued cell phone went missing. He says that frustrated by the lack of response he was getting from Sanchez and others, he had used the phone to text state Sen. Richard Martinez a message that read, “We need to speak of funding concerns and ethics violations.”

The complaint claims that the phone was acquired by NNMC administrators who viewed his text messages.

Three days after the phone went missing, Jacques says he was told he was being placed on administrative leave and that his contract would not be renewed the next year. When he asked why the action was being taken, the complaint states that Sanchez told him, “I don’t need to tell you anything.”

It a statement provided by his attorney, Daniel Yohalem, Jacques says he was bringing the lawsuit with the hope that it would bring positive change to the college.

“The college is rich in history and was a valued asset of Northern New Mexico, a place where many families could trust and ensure that there was an opportunity for our children. The allegations in my complaint describe part of what I believe is destroying our beloved college,” he said. “Through this lawsuit I hope the College’s current administration will finally be required to answer questions about its practices and be made accountable for its improper actions.”

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