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Moya sues APS, Skandera; AG launches investigation

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools chief financial officer Don Moya filed a lawsuit Monday afternoon against Superintendent Luis Valentino, New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and the APS Board of Education contending he is a whistleblower who was targeted because he “was insufficiently supportive” of Gov. Susana Martinez’s “political agenda.”

MOYA: Filed lawsuit Monday afternoon

MOYA: Filed lawsuit Monday afternoon

Moya’s attorney, Kate Ferlic, said the suit, filed in Santa Fe, claims violation of the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act and civil conspiracy.

The Governor’s Office called the allegations absurd.

“This allegation is so false and over-the-top that we will be filing a complaint with the State Bar against the lawyer and challenge her partner – who is an elected official – to agree to resign from office when he is unable to substantiate this absurd claim about the governor,” Gov. Susana Martinez said through a spokesman.

Ferlic’s partner is state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

On the same day, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he has assembled a team to investigate how former APS Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez was able to work at the district for 2½ months without a mandatory criminal background check.

In a letter directed to the APS Board of Education and Valentino, Balderas wrote that he is requesting a “detailed review, not only of the APS policies and procedures regarding the hiring of staff, but also a thorough security assessment of the failures that allowed a person charged with six counts of sexual assault on a child into our schools.”

Meanwhile, Moya’s lawsuit describes a relationship between Moya and Valentino that began positively, but quickly soured, culminating in Moya’s being placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 7.

Moya said he tried to help Valentino understand district finances after he was hired as superintendent in May and that Valentino verbally offered him the deputy superintendent job.

However, after Valentino met with Skandera and Martinez, Valentino rescinded the job offer because Moya “did not fully support the Governor’s education agenda,” the suit says.

The suit contends Valentino then hired Jason Martinez as deputy superintendent in June “at the urging of Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez.”

Jason Martinez, who is facing child sex abuse charges in Denver, refused to submit to a background check during his time with the district.

“Because of his relationship with Governor Martinez and Skandera, Jason Martinez was hired by APS without a background check; Valentino subsequently protected Jason Martinez from submitting to a background check,” the suit states.

In an emailed statement, the governor’s spokesman called the lawsuit’s claims “completely false allegations by a former Bill Richardson crony who has no credibility.”

“Governor Martinez never even heard his (Jason Martinez’s) name until this scandal broke,” the spokesman said.

Skandera also denied the claims.

“These are false and unsubstantiated claims being peddled by a disgruntled APS employee who served under Bill Richardson and clearly has an ax to grind,” she said. “As the Secretary has said before, Jason Martinez should have never been hired in the first place.”

An APS spokeswoman said the district does not respond to pending litigation.

Moya was put on administrative leave on Aug. 7 after he argued against Jason Martinez submitting a request for proposal to a tech company that had employed a former Denver Public Schools administrator accused of taking kickbacks.

Martinez had worked with that administrator while he was at Denver Public Schools. Moya’s suit contends that he was placed on leave “in retaliation” for questioning Martinez’s attempts to send work to the tech company, Advanced Network Management.

‘Humiliation’

Moya contends in the suit that Martinez was trying to get the company additional APS contracts, though Moya believed the work was “unnecessary, too costly, wasteful and unauthorized.”

When Moya spoke up about his concerns over the RFP, Valentino tried to text Skandera that he wanted to “go after” Moya for running “roughshot.”

Instead, the text accidentally went to Moya, who was placed on paid administrative leave later that day and never informed of the reasons, according to the suit.

He was subjected to “humiliation and embarrassment as he was escorted off the property of APS,” the suit says.

While Moya has posted tweets that are highly critical of the governor and secretary of education, Ferlic said, it is wrong to characterize the suit as a political attack on them.

“He blew the whistle – they retaliated against him for it,” she said. “They are setting him up to ruin his reputation and discourage other whistleblowers from coming forward.”

The Office of the State Auditor also has weighed in, sending a letter to Valentino stressing the “importance of maintaining appropriate internal control over the procurement process.”

Justine Freeman, deputy chief of staff for the office, said the letter “serves as a reminder to APS management of its responsibility to set a tone that enables employees to voice concerns about financial controls without fear of retribution.”

“Maintaining appropriate internal controls is key to protecting the best use of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

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