UNM: LGBTQ director misuses university funds, fired after internal investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The investigations into money mismanagement continue at the University of New Mexico. This, after the LGBTQ Director was fired last month, accused of taking trips that never got approved, paying for lunches on the university’s dime, then lying about it all.

Alma Rosa Silva-Banuelos worked with the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center since 2010. She was promoted as the center’s program specialist in 2012.

University employees raised red flags about the center last year. In January 2016, the university’s former Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Josephine De Leon, sent Silva-Banuelos an email calling into question the center’s travel expenses.

In part, she stated, “The amount of travel is excessive…Due to limited funding, I have to call into question whether taking more than one or two people on trips is really necessary.”

Dr. De Leon, Silva-Banuelos’ supervisor, went on to say that all travel must be approved by her prior to any trips.

In the email, she also makes mention of Silva-Banuelos’ “P-card” or the university’s issued credit card. She said, “Some of the purchases made at Smith’s are questionable and look like someone’s grocery list.”

Flash forward to November 2016 when the university’s Internal Audit Department launched an investigation into the resource center at “management’s request.”

Auditors looked at the center’s financial transactions, travel expenses and overall operations.

Just a month after the investigation launched, the Internal Audit Department received another complaint. This time it came from Silva-Banuelos who requested the department look into Dr. De Leon. Documents state Silva-Banuelos felt Dr. De Leon “retaliated against her for making an initial request for a transfer to a different department.”

She also alleged Dr. De Leon “threatened to write her up for requesting annual leave” and denied Silva-Banuelos’ submission of a federal grant.

When auditors completed their investigation, they found all Silva-Banuelos’ allegations to be “unsubstantiated.”

However, it found the center used “over $50,000 in travel expenditures” without receiving prior approval for out-of-state school trips and for “meetings” in Ojo Caliente.

One of those school trips included a week-long study abroad stay in Cuba. UNM said students were supposed to pay for their own airfare, but auditors discovered Silva-Banuelos purchased flights for a student and a former LGBTQ Resource Center employee, who wasn’t employed by the university at the time of the trip.

According to university documents, no one approved the purchase of either flight.

In a letter sent to Silva-Banuelos on May 12, 2017, Dr. De Leon stated, “there are only two instances where you received prior approval for any travel…for the remaining 19 (out of a total of 21) you failed to follow the proper approval/notification process I outlined to you in January 2016.”

The audit also showed receipts from Costco, Dan’s Supermarket and lunches at Duran’s Pharmacy, all paid for with a university credit card (P-card) issued to Silva-Banuelos.

According to university documents, Silva-Banuelos said the lunches were part of an advocacy training, but students and other employees refuted those claims.

UNM sent Silva-Banuelos a final letter last month, stating she violated several university policies and lied. She was let go.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Silva-Banuelos’ attorney for comment, but never heard back.

Dr. De Leon has since left UNM. She accepted a similar position at Cal Poly State University, in California.

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