Feds: Former NM ed official took bribes

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It was a program meant to help boost the academic performance of low income students at struggling schools.

Students were eligible to get free tutoring paid for by state and federal taxpayers through the SES tutoring program. Two out-of-state companies had a lot of sway in New Mexico.

Of the 54 school districts on PED’s SES tutoring list in 2010, Illinois-based Babbage Net School was the only provider authorized in all 54. Illinois-based Brilliance Academy was authorized in all but one. Both are owned by the same family.

Federal investigators say they had some help from Art Martinez, the man in charge of running state’s SES tutoring program.

According to a federal indictment, in early 2010 Martinez received cash, free meals and “services at a gentleman’s club” from the companies in exchange for sending business their way.

KRQE News 13 was able to confirm hundreds of thousands of state dollars and federal grant money assigned to New Mexico were given to the two companies from 2010-2012, but an exact amount was not available as of Monday evening. Nationwide, the company’s accused of defrauding state and federal taxpayers out of $33 million.

And it looks like that money didn’t buy much.

Although both companies advertised significant academic improvements from their tutoring, the feds allege the companies failed to even test to see how students performed and actually made a program to fabricate results. Although both companies claimed their tutoring was personalized for each student’s needs, federal investigators found they weren’t.

On top of that, the federal indictment claims the companies over-billed at least one school district by falsifying attendance records. Babbage Net School’s file with the PED shows the company earned $45 an hour in New Mexico to provide tutoring services.

The SES tutoring program was ended in New Mexico in 2012 when the state earned its No Child Left Behind waiver.

Martinez faces a single bribery charge that could earn him up to 10 years in prison.

PED spokesperson Larry Behrens tells News 13 Martinez quit in early 2012 after being placed on administrative leave. Behrens declined to say why Martinez was on leave and whether the PED is investigating anyone else at the department, or answer any other questions about the case.

 

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