ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State officials have ordered an investigation into whether APS board member Analee Maestas sought state reimbursement for cleaning that took place at her home, not at the charter school she founded, and falsified the receipt she submitted to the Public Education Department.
The receipt submitted for $342.40 for work July 31 appears to have been altered by someone writing the name and address of a casita behind La Promesa Charter School’s Early Learning Center over the name of Maestas and what the PED says appears to be her home address.
State law makes it a petty misdemeanor to use public money for personal expenses and to falsify school records.
The law says that in addition to all civil and criminal penalties, a person found to have violated the law “shall” forfeit “office or employment.”
On Wednesday evening, Maestas said she didn’t know about the investigation into the invoice when asked about it by a Journal reporter. She agreed to be interviewed at 2 p.m. on Thursday but did not answer any of four telephone calls. Her voice mailbox was full.
Maestas is the founder and executive director of La Promesa Charter School, which has 370 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.
Paul Aguilar, PED Deputy Secretary for Finance & Operations, ordered the investigation.
He sent a letter Wednesday to Axiom Certified Public Accountants, which works with the department, to notify them of questions surrounding the invoice Maestas submitted. Aguilar also asked that Axiom contact the Office of the State Auditor.
“The Department takes any potential misuse or waste of public school funds seriously and is very concerned by what appears to have taken place here,” the letter states.
Aguilar said red flags first went up because the receipt looked suspicious.
Maestas had paid the $342.40 herself and been reimbursed by La Promesa, and she was then seeking reimbursement for the school from PED. La Promesa is part of the K-3 Plus program, which offers extended hours to boost academics, and participating schools are eligible for some state maintenance funding.
According to Aguilar’s letter, department audit bureau staff visited La Promesa on Jan. 29 and spoke to Maestas, who said that duct and carpet cleaning had taken place at a casita owned by school and located behind the Early Learning Center building at 5201 Central SW.
“While it appears that La Promesa uses this casita, it does not appear that the vendor, Clean Carpet Care, did any work at this site,” the letter said.
The PED audit bureau followed up with Clean Carpet Care owner Joseph DiBruno, who told them he had done duct work at Maestas’ home, not the school casita. No carpets were cleaned, DiBruno said.
The Journal obtained a copy of the receipt Maestas sent to PED, along with a copy of a receipt DiBruno claims is the original.
The two look very different:
- PED’s receipt shows Clean Carpet Care cleaned 16 vents and carpets July 31 at a cost of roughly $340.In the customer information box, the address for La Promesa Charter School appears to be written over another address that is barely visible. And the checkmarks indicating the areas that were cleaned (two bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, stairs) are clearly newer than the faint duct work entries.Maestas’ signature is at the bottom.
- Clean Carpet Care’s original receipt — faxed to the Journal by DiBruno on Thursday — only lists the vent cleaning, not the carpet cleaning, and has Maestas’ name and home address under customer information.DiBruno told the Journal he is sure he did duct cleaning at Maestas’ home. He could not locate any records of having ever worked at the charter school.
“I am open to any investigation,” he said. “I believe there could have been an error. It is up to other people to make judgments.”
Aguilar said PED will wait for its results before deciding on the next steps.
Maestas makes $82,716 as executive director of La Promesa, according to PED. Currently APS board vice president, Maestas is in her second term, having won re-election in February 2015. She has said she plans to run for county commissioner as a Democrat.
No other inquiries
Aguilar said La Promesa has not been the subject of other inquiries and the department auditors did not find anything unusual in over a dozen other receipts they reviewed.
Aguilar also said erased invoices are a rarity in his experience.
At the least, the invoice issues could indicate sloppiness with La Promesa’s accounting, his letter states.
Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera told the Journal that her office takes fiduciary responsibility seriously and seeks a review of any questionable invoices.