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Manager accused of stealing from La Promesa charter school

The Associated Press
September 13, 2017 07:21 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- According to a report from the state auditor, a former employee at La Promesa Early Learning Center embezzled roughly $500,000.

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State Auditor Tim Keller said the daughter of Analee Maestas, La Promesa's executive director, forged checks to put money into her own bank account.

"At the end of the day, this basically is taking money from kids," Keller said. "These are tax dollars that are supposed to go to textbooks, things in the classroom, programs for the kids, that instead are going to the manager's personal bank account for personal use."

La Promesa was investigated last year because of alleged mismanaged finances, and the Public Education Department took control of the school.

In the latest investigation, Keller said hundreds of checks worth more than $475,000 that were supposed to go to vendors ended up in a former employee's personal bank account.

"We've made a formal criminal referral over to the district attorney's office regarding possible embezzlement, fraud and forgery, check forgery," he said.

Keller said the process is called dual endorsement, a check forging scheme.  The state auditor explained how the scheme would work.

"Mom's in charge and daughter does the books. Daughter is basically writing checks to pay for rent, cleaning, things like this, and the mom signs off," Keller said. "In this case, what the daughter was doing was she would write a check to the maintenance company and the mom would sign it. And then the daughter would take it and forge the cleaning company's name on the back, and then also add her name so she could deposit it in her personal bank account."

Keller said there have also been cases where the mother and boyfriend may also have been involved.

"Now law enforcement will essentially investigate and prosecute, and it will sort of take its course from there," he said. "But for us, we're shining a light at least on what happened with these checks and where they went."

KOB reached out to the Maestas family but has not heard back. After news of the auditor's report, La Promesa released a statement. It said in part:

"Though very alarmed, LPELC’s Head Administrator and Governance Council fully support the work of the State Auditor, including the findings of the Risk Review. The school also supports and will cooperate in the OSA’s decision to report its findings to law enforcement. Importantly, the OSA affirms in its report that the current administration and governing body came on board after the actions described in the report."

To read the full statement, click here.

Lida Alikhani, a spokesperson for PED, said the department worked to ensure the state auditor and law enforcement knew of the concerns.

"The PED takes these financial mismanagement issues very seriously and -- prior to the release of this report- - had taken appropriate steps that align with the recommendations regarding licensure, training, and oversight of business managers," she said. "As the PED’s previous recommendations and actions reflect, charter schools must be held accountable for their financial, as well as academic and organizational, performance."

Credits

The Associated Press

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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