Trial in West Las Vegas case likely to be delayed

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By David Giuliani

The trial for the four suspects accused of wrongdoing in connection with the West Las Vegas school district’s bilingual program likely would be delayed, the attorney general’s office reported this week.

The trial had been scheduled for Jan. 8, but the Santa Fe district judge presiding over the matter required the state get an expert in the laws and regulations that govern the spending of federal bilingual funds, said Phil Sisneros, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. The deadline for getting that expert is Jan. 22, he said.

Because of that requirement, prosecutors expect the trial to be delayed, Sisneros said.

Those facing charges are Roberta Vigil, the former head of West’s bilingual program, who was demoted to a teaching position; Beverly Ortega, former education assistant to Vigil, who was fired in February; Ralph Garcia, a West school board member; and Joe Baca, former superintendent, who left in the summer.

The charges stem from fraudulent spending of federal Title III money, along with state funds specifically appropriated for the district’s bilingual program, officials said.

Vigil, Garcia and Baca were charged with fraud, a second-degree felony; misuse of public funds, a fourth-degree felony; prohibited sales by school board members, a fourth-degree felony; and conspiracy, a third-degree felony.

In addition, Vigil is charged with tampering with public records, a fourth-degree felony, and a procurement code violation, a misdemeanor. Ortega is charged with conspiracy, a third-degree felony.

The state Public Education Department also has proposed the revocation of Vigil’s teacher’s license, but a state hearing officer has delayed the hearing in that matter twice. Now, the hearing is set for March 25. The state says the hearing was delayed the last time at the request of Vigil’s attorney, Sam Bregman, who maintained that Vigil wanted to focus on the pending criminal case.

The state launched the investigation into the bilingual program in mid-2006 after the Optic published a story about an invitation-only, adults-only party sponsored by the program that cost nearly $10,000. About half of the money went to a restaurant owned by Garcia, the school board member.

The Optic had issued a public records request for all financial documents associated with the bash. According to the documents, Garcia’s restaurant, El Rialto, and three Santa Fe restaurants provided quotes on the catering for the party. But when the Optic called the Santa Fe businesses, representatives said they never submitted quotes.

Shortly after the Optic’s report, the school district’s attorney, Jesus Lopez, reported to the board that Vigil’s husband, state Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, had quietly funneled more than $100,000 in state appropriations to her program — money the district hadn’t requested.

Because of the alleged problems, the state took over the district’s finances in August 2006.

Bregman, Roberta Vigil’s attorney, has said his client is not the one to blame because her superiors approved all of her program’s expenses.

He also said there is a bias against the Vigil family, in part, because of the case involving former state Treasurer Robert Vigil, Roberta Vigil’s brother-in-law, who is serving a prison sentence on a corruption charge.

The defendants have maintained a public silence.