Manager accused of stealing from New Mexico charter school
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A review of an Albuquerque charter school already on the radar for financial mismanagement has turned up new allegations that a former business manager likely embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years.
The Office of the State Auditor outlined the allegations in a report released Tuesday without naming the former employee of La Promesa Early Learning Center. The report states the employee is the daughter of the school's former executive director, who was forced to step down after auditors determined she had doctored a receipt to receive improper reimbursement.
An earlier audit also highlighted late payments and missing or inaccurate documents.
The latest inquiry accuses the former assistant business manager of depositing over 500 checks worth more than $475,000 into her personal bank account. Those checks were written to various vendors, but auditors said it appeared they were signed over to the employee through a process known as dual endorsing.
Auditors also found about $177,000 worth of checks made payable to the woman's mother and boyfriend, who was a vendor of the school. Those were also deposited into her personal account.
"As a result, hundreds of kids were defrauded of funding that should be going to their education," State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement. "The accountability from our investigations enables the school to get to the bottom of past financial problems so they can continue serving their diverse students well into the future."
The auditor's office has forwarded its findings to state and federal law enforcement authorities.
The school first made headlines last year when the former executive director, Analee Maestas, was accused of altering a receipt for maintenance work she had done at her home so she could be reimbursed as if it had been a school expense. Maestas, who founded the charter school in 2008, is a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education.
The state Public Education Department took over the charter school's finances last year after Maestas was asked to resign. Her daughter also was discharged at that time.
Maestas did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the latest allegations, and it was not immediately clear if her daughter had an attorney.
According to the auditor's investigation, bank records indicate the money that was diverted from the school was used by the former assistant manager to pay for personal expenses, bills and loans. Other records indicate that the ex-employee's salary increased from $35,627 when she was hired in 2007 to more than $65,600 by 2016 as the number of days she was contracted to work increased from 188 to 235.
The auditor's office began investigating after the school's current leadership reported suspicious financial activity. The inquiry covered records dating back to 2010.