School board member hit with bribery, misconduct allegations
October 16, 2019 10:17 PM
QUESTA, N.M.- The Questa School Board voted Tuesday to ask the New Mexico attorney general and state auditor to investigate allegations of bribery and misconduct by a school board member.
In September, Questa School Board members voted on whether to close the Rio Costilla Learning Academy. The board was informed the aging building had serious problems that put student safety at risk.
According to Questa School Board Member Ellis Garcia, he was the swing vote, unsure on how he was going to decide the matter. Garcia said Questa School Board Member Tammy Jaramillo tried to bribe him to swing his vote her way to keep the school open.
“She asked me that if I helped her, she would help me,” Garcia told KOB 4.
Ellis recently fell on hard times. He’s suffering from kidney failure. Over the last year, he has had to undergo dialysis three times a week in neighboring Taos or Espanola. Garcia said Jaramillo took advantage of that.
“She works for Taos County and she said she could help me pay any unpaid medical bills. For me, it was a bribe vote more than a ‘I'll help you out.’"
Garcia is a convicted felon. His conviction was from the 1990s, so finding the exact trail was difficult for KOB 4 to find. However, Garcia claimed he was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson. He claimed he provided the get-away car after a relative and friend burned a house down to make a false insurance claim. A New Mexico state law states convicted felons aren't permitted to hold public offices.
Garcia told KOB 4 Jaramillo used his past to also extort him to vote to keep the school open.
“Well, she threatened me with the fact that I have a felony and she would expose that,” Garcia said.
Jaramillo also worked in the State Capitol during legislative sessions. Garcia said, she promised to use her political connections to help him get a pardon from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. When Garcia reported all this to the school board president, he ordered an internal investigation. The investigator concluded, “it is my opinion that the report of board member misconduct and bribery is a credible concern and the events occurred.” Tuesday night, the board voted to forward the internal investigation to Attorney General Hector Balderas and State Auditor Brian Colon.
Tammy Jaramillo denies the extortion and bribery claims.
“That's a lie,” Jaramillo told KOB4. “That's a downright lie.”
Jaramillo said she did try to connect Garcia with financial help and she and her husband did give Garcia a small amount of cash, but it was only to be friendly and helpful, not to buy his vote.
“We stopped by and gave him a get-well card with $35 in it because he had stated before that he had no gas to get to Espanola for his dialysis,” Jaramillo said. “That's what you do. You help people. For him to turn it around and say we were trying to buy his vote, that is ridiculous.”
In fact, Jaramillo said it was Garcia who asked for the help. She produced a text thread that reads for verbatim:
Garcia: Thank you for the card.
Jaramillo: I hope it helps and you will bring our prayers
Garcia: Your very smart and organized can you help with fund raisers I am not going to meeting both legs are numb I cannot stand up
I am in ER
Last hour of Dyalis lost feeling
Short term disability. Want more documents.
Jaramillo: I can try and help with what I can….I will be leaving to Denver on Sunday
Jaramillo believes Garcia and others are on the board have falsely accused her to retaliate against her. Jaramillo has become a vocal critic of the board and often disagrees with the board’s decisions.
The state auditor and attorney general have both confirmed they have open investigations. Attorney General Hector Balderas has stated he is also investigating whether Garcia is eligible to serve as a board member since he is a convicted felon.
Updated: October 16, 2019 10:17 PM
Created: October 16, 2019 08:48 PM
Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved