Ex-West official gets probation

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By The Staff

SANTA FE — A judge has sentenced the former bilingual coordinator for the West Las Vegas schools to three years on probation and ordered her to repay $13,856 in bilingual education funds to the district.

State District Judge Stephen Pfeffer on Monday sentenced 48-year-old Roberta Vigil, who was convicted in May of fraud over $2,500 and conspiracy to commit fraud over $2,500.

Vigil is the wife of state Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera.

The case revolved around two parties by the district’s bilingual department in 2005 and 2006. Vigil was accused of spending taxpayer money meant for bilingual education on parties held in the evening off school grounds.

Vigil could have faced 4-1/2   years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Saavedra argued for prison time, but Vigil’s attorney, Sam Bregman, said Vigil did not benefit from the money.

Earlier this summer, a jury found Vigil guilty of fraudulently spending public money.

In mid-2006, the Optic reported on an invitation-only, adults-only party held in April of that year by the bilingual program. That prompted an investigation by the state.

In documents, Roberta Vigil’s department referred to the party as a “workshop,” the food as “sustenance,” and the performer, Al Hurricane, as a “trainer.” Prosecutors argued that the use of such words was meant to mislead the public.

In 2007, the state attorney general’s office alleged that Vigil fraudulently spent money intended for English language learning on unrelated things. Such expenditures included adults-only parties, athletic equipment and an electronic sign at the entrance to West Las Vegas High School.

The scandal had enormous effects for the West Las Vegas school district. The state took over West’s finances just two months after the Optic investigation, and the district’s then-attorney, Jesus Lopez, announced publicly that Rep. Vigil was quietly funneling state money for wasteful spending in the bilingual program.

Lopez also urged the district to relieve Roberta Vigil of her duties. The superintendent shortly afterward demoted her to a teaching position.

In later testimony in a state Public Education Department hearing, some West employees alleged that the state lawmaker was browbeating then-Superintendent Joe Baca to make decisions in the bilingual program’s favor. Rep. Vigil was never charged in the bilingual scandals.

During one school board meeting in 2006, Patrick Marquez, then the school board’s chairman, told the media to “kiss my green and gold a--,” showing his anger about news coverage of the district’s spending.

Both Marquez and board member Michael Vigil, Roberta Vigil’s brother-in-law, defended the spending for the nearly $10,000 party, in which around half went to school board member Ralph Garcia’s restaurant for catering the shindig.

Marquez and Michael Vigil lost badly in their bids for re-election in 2007.

In July, Baca, the former superintendent, pleaded no contest to a charge of fraud in connection with the bilingual program.

Baca entered the plea as part of an agreement with the attorney general’s office in Santa Fe District Court. He was convicted on a count of fraud of $250 or less.

As part of the deal, Baca, who resigned in 2007, has agreed to pay the state $2,750 in restitution.