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RCLC’s new contractor has troubled past

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Legal issues > Chicanos Por La Causa President Roger Gonzales’s past includes financial corruption charges

A new chapter has surfaced in the ongoing saga of the troubled Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. Local and regional representatives of the coalition are discovering more information about the new executive director for the management contractor, Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico.

The information points to Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico President and CEO Roger Gonzales’s past that includes financial corruption, misspending thousands of dollars and accusations of misrepresenting his educational background while employed with the Mora Independent Schools District as interim superintendent and later as chief operations officer.

According to reports from the Las Vegas Optic, Gonzales was involved in a legal dispute with the New Mexico Public Education Department. The state Public Education Department revoked his business license in 2012 over concerns of misspending money.

The department ordered Gonzalez to pay $16,466.84 in restitution, plus a $1,000 fine. Gonzalez told the media he filed an appeal, but the Los Alamos Monitor was unable to find evidence of an appeal filed with the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

According to court records, Gonzales was appointed interim superintendent by the Mora Independent School’s District, though he did not have the license to be a superintendent.

“In 2006, he became of the Director of Instructional Support and Advancement. By November of that year, Mr. Gonzales had become so influential in the MISD that the Board of Education appointed him Interim Superintendent even though he did not hold the required administrator’s license for PED,” according to a statement filed by the PED in court.

When Gonzales was made chief operations officer of the Mora Independent School District, the PED accused him of “engineering” the improper diversion of over $64,000 into a “slush fund.”

“These funds should have been spent on educating the students of Mora,” PED officials said in court documents.

The PED also accused him of “spending over $82,000 on lobbying expenditures and gifts to legislators, school officials, others and himself out this slush fund.”

The PED also accused him of lobbying the state Legislature without registering and reporting himself as a lobbyist to the state, intimidating teachers, forging and falsifying public documents, failing to report the misuse of MISD funds and using funds from the “slush fund” without the approval of the MISD Superintendent.

The board of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities hired Chicanos Por La Causa, a social services group based out of Arizona that serves low-income Hispanic communities, July 20.

Gonzales serves as the CEO and president of New Mexico Chapter of Chicanos Por La Causa.

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, which is a coalition that serves nine entities affected by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, contracted to pay Chicanos Por La Causa $169,288 yearly.

Eric Vasquez, husband of 43rd District State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, will be paid by Chicanos Por La Causa to serve as the RCLC’s executive director.

The amount does not include applicable gross receipts tax. Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico is contracted to pay Vasquez’s salary and manage operating expenses and staff.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the New Mexico Chapter of Chicanos Por La Causa was first named Siete del Norte before Gonzales became president and CEO.

In separate news last week, a news article revealed that Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico in Santa Fe, had rented former RCLC Executive Director Andrea Romero some land to operate an ostrich farm in San Miguel County.

Romero left under a cloud of accusations centering on misspent RCLC funds and improper reimbursements for travel and food expenses in February.

Romero chose not rebid for the contract as she wanted to concentrate on the Democratic primary against incumbent Rep. Carl Trujillo for the 46th District for the New Mexico state House seat.

The attention given to the RCLC’s misspending in the wake of Romero’s departure prompted an independent investigation of how Los Alamos County, the community in the RCLC responsible for managing the coalition’s finances, managed travel reimbursement and other finances. The report accused the county and RCLC officials of lackadaisical and in some cases illegal accounting practices, all of which the county has denied. The financial fallout also prompted an audit from the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office, which alleged more than $51,000 in unauthorized travel and business reimbursements were authorized by the RCLC.

Los Alamos County Councilor Morrie Pongratz, who is the county’s representative on the LANL coalition, said at the time the coalition agreed on the contract with Chicanos Por La Causa, he was not aware of Gonzales’s past financial mismanagement and allegations of dishonesty when he served as Mora County School District’s chief operations officer.

“I did not know that at the time we were interviewing these people,” Pongratz said. “I was disappointed to read that, but I have full faith in Eric Vasquez.”

Coalition treasurer Peter Ives, noted he wasn’t familiar with Gonzales, but he knew Vasquez, and that he will be the person they will be directly dealing with.

“Eric is our point person. Other than seeing Roger during the contracting process, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Roger at just one meeting. It’s all been with Eric.”

Ives also said he was not familiar with Chicanos Por La Causa either.

“I’m not familiar with Chicanos Por Las Causa,” Ives said. “I also can’t say I was aware of the challenges of his time in Mora, because I’ve only known him in his connection with Chicanos Por La Causa.”

Gonzales did not return a call for comment. His office assistant said he was traveling for work. Vasquez could also not be reached for comment and his voicemail was full.