A woman who worked with Charles Trujillo at the Public Education Department (PED) said Tuesday she warned agency officials more than a year ago about problems with Trujillo’s successful application for an administrative license — a license he later used to land a $100,000-a-year education job.
The employee, Michelle Lewis, also denied in an e-mail ever signing a letter earlier this year that bears her signature. That letter helped Trujillo win the superintendent post at Mora County Independent School District.
Lewis on Tuesday wrote in an e-mail to New Mexico In Depth and other media that she told her “supervisors as well as the ethics bureau within the PED well over a year ago that something was wrong with the issuance of” the license to Charles Trujillo. At the time. Trujillo, who was Lewis’ boss, headed the agency’s bureau responsible for licensing school teachers and administrators around the state.
Over the weekend, the Las Vegas Optic reported that in 2013 Trujillo allegedly faked credentials to win a state administrative license. That license subsequently allowed Trujillo to become superintendent of Mora Independent School District, pulling down an annual salary of $100,000.
Lewis said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that her suspicions were raised when Trujillo obtained several educational licenses in a short time at the bureau.
He came into the job as chief at the PED’s licensure bureau around 2012 with an expired level 1 counseling license, she said. When he left in 2014, he had several Level 3 licenses.
It was “the whole idea of going from zero to 100,” Lewis said. For each of those licenses Trujillo received while in the bureau, one would have had to serve an internship for a year per state regulation, she added.
“I don’t know who issued them or how they were issued,” Lewis said.
Trujillo could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Lewis’ assertions train a spotlight on the Public Education Department (PED) and its handling of Trujillo’s application internally. It also raises questions about whether Lewis’ warnings went unheeded. More broadly, Lewis’ comments also cast doubt about the strength of the agency’s safeguards and processes to protect against fraud, such as: is there a requirement to double check the authenticity of documents supporting applications.
A spokesman for the PED did not respond Tuesday to NMID’s request for comment on Lewis’ assertions about warning agency officials.
The Public Education Department did say Tuesday in a statement that it has “initiated the process to suspend Superintendent Trujillo’s administrative license.” In a statement e-mailed after 6 p.m., the agency reported that Trujillo “has agreed to surrender his education licenses.”
The PED has asked the State Police to start an investigation, an agency spokesman confirmed in an e-mail.
Lewis contacted media Tuesday to correct the record, she wrote in her e-mail. The Optic’s reporting over the weekend mentioned Lewis as vouching for Trujillo’s transcripts from Highlands University in a letter to Mora school officials earlier this year.
The Optic’s story reported:
PED relied on an unofficial transcript in granting the administrative license to Charles Trujillo, a violation of its rules.
In order to be considered “official” a Highlands transcript must be sealed and opened only by a prospective employer or other requestor. The transcript contained in Charles Trujillo’s licensure file is stamped “issued to student” and does not contain the university’s watermark.
Nevertheless, PED Education Consultant Michelle Lewis sent a letter to the Mora school district in May vouching for Charles Trujillo’s transcripts, which were attached to her letter.
“I state unequivocally that I did not sign, nor did I lend my signature to any of the documents relative to the licenses in question nor did I have any communications with the Mora Independent Schools Board,” Lewis wrote in her e-mail. “If someone forged or otherwise attached my signature to any documents related to this matter, I fully expect them to be appropriately dealt with under the law.”
A PED spokesman confirmed Tuesday that “we believe the letter that Superintendent Trujillo submitted to the board is not authentic.”
The Optic reported this weekend that Trujillo stated that he had earned a Master of Arts degree in guidance and counseling and human performance leisure & sport in December of 2004. But the registrar’s office at Highlands says Charles Trujillo never obtained a master’s degree.
If true that Trujillo faked his transcripts, it is unclear how he did.