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DA: Luna CC under investigation for nepotism, financial issues

SANTA FE, N.M. — Family members of Luna Community College’s president and board of trustees have been given good jobs and pay raises since a new president took over in August 2015, and the alleged nepotism and financial shortcomings at the school have caught the attention of auditors, the Las Vegas, N.M., district attorney and the state attorney general.

Recent audits by the State Auditor’s Office and the state Higher Education Department say Luna, whose campus is in Las Vegas, created the perception of favoritism when relatives of President Leroy “Huero” Sanchez and of the college’s trustees were given jobs without following proper hiring protocol.

The audits also say Sanchez’s own hiring as president may not have followed state law because the college didn’t consider at least five finalists and because the names of any finalists weren’t published in a state or national newspaper.

The audits raised concerns about a host of financial control issues at the school and its associated foundation, which raises money for scholarships. Luna president Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

District Attorney Richard Flores confirmed that he and Attorney General Hector Balderas are now investigating the school based on the audit findings.

“Amongst other things, said findings raised issues of nepotism; the manner in which the last presidential search and subsequent contract was conducted and entered into; inventory matters and procurement issues,” Flores said in an email.

“In addition, and after said audits were made public, my office received numerous phone calls and inquiries as to the administration of the school in light of the auditors’ reports.

“With that said, I can confirm that a joint investigation is being conducted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.”

Flores said that because “this is a pending matter and a continued investigation, it would be premature for me to make any further comments at this time.”

According to the HED audit released in October, Huero Sanchez’s son, Roy Sanchez, was hired by Luna on Oct. 1, 2015, two months after the father’s ascendancy to the president’s job. The son was given a temporary part-time contract to be an assistant softball coach with a salary of $17,000.

The coaching job was not advertised, and Roy Sanchez was never put in front of a hiring committee. In September 2016, Roy Sanchez’s job became full-time with a salary of $35,567. He’s still in the same assistant softball coach position, according to Luna’s athletics website.

Shortly before Huero Sanchez became president in 2015, the Luna board of trustees had amended the school’s nepotism policy to allow the hiring of the president’s family members, according to the State Auditor’s Office audit released in January.

In other hires cited in the HED audit:

• Aurora Sisneros, the wife of board of trustees member Severiano Sisneros, was promoted from a part-time instructor to a satellite campus manager last year, with a $51,579 salary.

• The president’s wife’s niece, Leticia Archuleta, was promoted to human resources director in July 2015 and received raises totalling $23,709 in the span of one year.

• Trustee Abelino Montoya’s daughter, Denise Montoya, was promoted to information technology director, even though the position was never advertised, and received $15,540 in raises in five months.

• Board member David Gutierrez’s son, Keith Gutierrez, was promoted to a satellite campus director in August 2015 and given a salary increase of $15,795. The position was not advertised and Keith Gutierrez was not required to apply or interview for the position, HED says.

• The son-in-law of trustee Ernie Chavez, Matthew Griego, was hired as the Life/Safety Coordinator in July, but a hiring committee was not established for the position and the president conducted an informal interview before making the hire.

• Financial aid director Michael Montoya got $10,851 in raises in a 10-month period, which HED says appears to be favoritism.

The audit doesn’t identify the family members by name, but the Journal has learned who they are.

“It is evident that concerns are warranted based upon the number of direct family members and relatives of the Board and President that have been hired, promoted, or given raises since the current President was contracted 13 months ago,” the HED audit says.

The audit conducted for the State Auditor Office by Axiom Certified Public Accountants of Albuquerque says Luna’s policy was revised Oct. 18, 2016 – about the time the HED audit was released – to no longer allow the hiring of the president’s or a trustee’s family members.

“Based upon the extent of the concerns, complaints, and allegations voiced, and upon the issues documented within this report, it appears that Board Trustees are failing in their duties to exercise an adequate level of management and control,” the HED audit concludes.

“Nothing undermines confidence more than a real or perceived violation of public trust. Moreover, all LCC faculty and staff should clearly understand and demonstrate certain competencies in their area of responsibility on a daily basis and should be well informed about conflicts of interest.”

Both audits say that Luna did not follow state law in hiring Sanchez by not naming or publishing the names of finalists. In Luna’s response to the State Auditor’s Office, the school says the pertinent statute didn’t apply because Luna is a community college. The audit by the State Auditor’s Office, released in January, urged the college to get an opinion from the attorney general on the hiring.

The audit by Keller’s office also says the Luna Foundation, which provides student scholarships, did not enter any accounting activity between July 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2015, when the foundation changed directors. Bank reconciliations were then not performed in a timely manner between January 2016 and June 2016.