Former Spaceport Authority financial officer takes on state officials in whistleblower suit

A former financial officer for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority filed a sweeping lawsuit this week against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and 20 other state officials, alleging fraud and embezzlement, along with a variety of other accusations. 

Certified public accountant and former Chief Financial Officer for the Spaceport Authority Zach DeGregorio, filed the suit on Monday and claims that high ranking state officials, including the governor, the state attorney general and the state auditor, were all at least complicit in covering up financial crimes related to the operation and funding of the spaceport. 

In his legal complaint of more than 200 pages, DeGregorio, who is representing himself, painted a picture of a dysfunctional state organization led by state officials who allegedly defrauded taxpayers and tried to cover their tracks. According to DeGregorio’s claims, state officials not only worked together to cover up wrongdoing but also later retaliated against DeGregorio and in turn, allegedly violated the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act. 

“Contrary to the NM Whistleblower Protection Act, [DeGregorio] faced intense retaliation following his whistleblower complaints. [DeGregorio] was treated as a problem that needed to be silenced and removed,” DeGregorio wrote. “Government officials at the highest levels including the Governor, the Cabinet Secretary of Economic Development, the NM State Auditor, the NM Attorney General, and others conspired together and took actions to retaliate against [DeGregorio].”

A spokesperson for Lujan Grisham told NM Political Report that the office does not comment on pending litigation. 

DeGregorio alleged in his legal complaint that then-Spaceport Director Dan Hicks repeatedly violated both state law and internal policies. In June 2020, the state hired The McHard Firm, an independent auditing agency to investigate DeGregorio’s claims. The firm reportedly found that Hicks “was an extremely dysfunctional manager” who “at other times obviously attempting charm in what was described to us as ineffectual, inept, and also embarrassing to observers.”

But the agency also reported that it found that DeGregorio was complacent in Hicks’ actions.    

“Although we were engaged to investigate a complaint filed by Zach DeGregorio, involving allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Spaceport Director Daniel “Dan” Hicks, our investigation revealed that Mr. DeGregorio assisted, and in some cases planned, apparent violations of law and policy on behalf of Hicks,” the McHard report read.

UNM fees for public records violate law

The University of New Mexico violated state law when it didn’t properly fulfill records requests from NM Political Report, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office. A determination letter from Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp, in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report, cited two violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). In one instance, the university failed to provide records in the statutorily required amount of time. In another instance, the AG’s office determined that UNM violated state law by charging $0.38 per page to transfer more than 1,600 pages in a single electronic file. “Based on our review of the evidence and applicable laws, we conclude that the University’s proposed fees violated IPRA,” Kreienkamp wrote.

UNM pays $800K in settlement, still secretive on other details

The University of New Mexico paid out nearly $1 million to a former medical resident who accused medical school administrators of retaliating against her for reporting she was raped by a male resident. NM Political Report obtained the settlement agreement this week, nearly nine months after the case went to trial. The agreement, obtained by NM Political Report through a public records request, sheds some light on why the school settled with former University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald. But other specifics, like how much of the $800,000 settlement came from the school and how much from the state or what prompted the school to settle, remain murky at best. Herald now lives in Michigan, advocating for victims of sexual abuse and hopes to start a psychiatric residency program soon, according to her lawyer, Randi McGinn.

UNM blames settlement, plaintiff for lack of bonuses

The outcome of a recent lawsuit against the University of New Mexico and its medical school probably isn’t sitting well with some medical staff. A settlement over the university’s alleged mishandling of a reported rape cost staff their year-end bonus. That’s according to a department head who broke the news to his faculty, via email, about a month before Christmas last year. UNM settled a lawsuit filed by former anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald in November for an undisclosed amount, but it was significant enough to impact her former department. A closer look at why that’s happening reveals that it may be unprecedented for an individual department to bear the brunt of a payout like the one Herald received.

Settlement in UNM whistleblower suit involving alleged rape

After a contentious trial filled with tears, frustration and sharp warnings from the judge, both parties in a whistleblower lawsuit came to an agreement late Thursday night. The confidential settlement between the University of New Mexico Hospital and a former resident came after almost two weeks of testimony and hours before the jury was set to hear closing arguments. Former UNMH medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald sued the school, alleging she was pushed out of the program after she told her bosses she was raped by a male colleague. UNMH attorneys disagreed, saying they removed her from the residency program because she made many possibly fatal mistakes during surgeries, had a prescription drug problem and did not take responsibility for her shortcomings. Related: See all our stories from this trial
Herald told reporters after the trial she feels “a huge sense of relief” but that the decision to settle was not an easy one.

Two more calls for a mistrial in UNMH whistleblower case

For a second day in a row fireworks lit up behind the scenes, without the jury present in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Dr. Cynthia Herald, a former medical resident, filed the lawsuit, alleging she was fired after telling her bosses that a male colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

Like Wednesday, tensions between lawyers simmered Thursday morning, prompting District Judge Shannon Bacon to address both counsels. “You all hate this case,” Bacon said to lawyers for both UNMH and Herald. Bacon’s comment came after UNMH lawyers requested a mistrial, the third request so far in the two-week-long trial.

Near-mistrial, heated words in UNMH whistleblower lawsuit trial

A judge nearly threw the case out and a lawyer made a witness cry on the seventh day of trial in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Former UNM medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald alleges UNMH officials unlawfully dismissed her from the residency program after she reported a colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

After almost a full day of routine testimony, the judge came close to declaring a mistrial and had sharp words for Randi McGinn, one of Herald’s lawyers, over her comments to a witness outside the courtroom. Toward the end of the day’s proceedings, Dr. Sally Vender, an anesthesiologist, testified on behalf of UNMH. Vender described her friendship with Herald, which started when they were both first-year medical interns.

In whistleblower suit, UNM lawyers focus on key meeting about alleged rape

The sixth day of a trial in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital featured former and current hospital employees testifying about when former UNM resident Dr. Cynthia Herald told her bosses a colleague raped her and how her supervisors  treated her afterwards. Neither side disputes that in September 2009, a few months after the alleged attack, Herald met with her supervisors and one woman tasked with taking notes. But neither side agrees what was said at the meeting. That meeting is a key event. Herald’s story about being kicked out of the residency program hinges on that meeting.

UNM lawyers question doctor’s credibility in whistleblower lawsuit

University of New Mexico lawyers questioned the former resident  who brought a lawsuit against the medical school on Monday. UNM’s lawyers spent the day trying to poke holes in the testimony of Dr. Cynthia Herald, who alleges the medical school kicked her out of the residency program after she told administrators a male colleague raped her. Last week, Herald testified for hours about the events and UNMH’s response. Patricia Williams, a lawyer for UNMH, asked Herald what steps she took to preserve forensic evidence after the alleged rape. “Did you retain your underwear from that night?” Williams asked.

Woman who filed whistleblower lawsuit against UNMH testifies in court

The former University of New Mexico medical resident who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university testified Thursday, the fourth day of the jury trial in Second Judicial District Court. Dr. Cynthia Herald, who accused medical school administrators of unlawfully firing her after she told them a male colleague raped her, gave her account of both the alleged rape and the aftermath. Herald told the jury that after the alleged attack she went home and took a shower before she began “soaking and crying for about an hour.”

“I just wanted to wash everything off of me down the drain,” Herald said. Herald also explained to the jury why she didn’t file a police report against the male doctor. “Instead of being the doctor who was smart or the doctor who was competent, I was always going to be known as the doctor who was raped,” Herald said through tears.