SANTA FE, N.M. — Nearly two years ago, Don Moya, then Albuquerque Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, alleging he was placed on paid administrative leave for alerting administrators to wasteful audits backed by the new superintendent, Luis Valentino.
Both Moya and Valentino left APS amid controversy not long after, but the case is still working its way through the court system.
Two law firms are handling the district’s defense – German & Associates and Robles, Rael, and Anaya. Their bills add up to nearly $680,000 to date, though insurance caps APS’s out-of-pocket costs at $350,000.
“I think that APS is cutting off its nose to spite its face,” said Kate Ferlic, Moya’s attorney. “They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in this case, and they’ve had every opportunity to let the truth be known.”
Ferlic said APS has buried her in nearly 100,000 pages of “meaningless documents,” but valuable evidence has “been destroyed” – text messages between Valentino and several administrators, including former top deputy, Jason Martinez, as well as New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, who was named in the lawsuit but dropped in December 2015.
Valentino and former APS chief of staff Toni Cordova also claim they lost notes that could be relevant to the case, according to Ferlic.
“That is disturbing, particularly because these are public records that deal with public business, and I think the public has the right to know what’s in them,” Ferlic said.
An APS spokeswoman declined to comment on the litigation.
Moya’s case is a reminder of one of the darkest times in the district’s history, a four-week stretch that included a notorious “errant text,” child sex abuse charges, and, ultimately, an $80,000 payout to Valentino.
The unraveling began on Aug. 7, 2015, when Valentino – recently hired from San Francisco’s school district – tried to text Skandera about “going after” Moya for running “roughshot.” He accidentally sent the text to Moya himself. Later that day, Valentino placed Moya on paid administrative leave.
The two were reportedly friendly when Valentino began the job in May 2015, but tangled over proposed audits Moya believed were wasteful and unnecessary. Martinez, a curriculum expert from Colorado, also supported the audits.
Less than two weeks after Moya was placed on paid leave, Martinez resigned amid allegations he had skipped a mandatory criminal background check to conceal child sex assault charges against him filed in Denver. He was later found not guilty.
Valentino stepped down at the end of August 2015 with an $80,000 buyout and positive reference letter from the APS Board of Education.
“Luis Valentino and Jason Martinez took APS for a ride,” Ferlic said. “Don Moya stopped that, but then his entire life was uprooted.”
Moya filed the whistle-blower lawsuit in Santa Fe’s First Judicial District Court in August 2015 to “encourage fiscal watchdogs to keep public officials accountable,” Ferlic said.
In fall 2015, he broke both legs in a motorcycle accident. His contract with APS was not renewed in April 2016 because he did not return in a new position – financial systems architect – after his annual and sick leave ran out.
Moya now works as a finance director for Santa Fe County, but misses education, according to Ferlic.
“That is his passion,” Ferlic said. “It’s been a tough few years.”