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Compton Schools Chief's Former Bosses Charged

Law: Las Cruces, N.M., board is accused of illegal payments to Jesse Gonzales. He refuses to return the money.


The New Mexico attorney general Thursday charged current and former school board members in Las Cruces with illegally granting raises and benefits to Compton Superintendent Jesse Gonzales when he headed the schools there.

Gonzales, who was not charged with anything, was superintendent in Las Cruces for nearly 12 years before leaving late last year to assume the top job in Compton. Through a spokesman, he declined to comment.

In a previous interview and in documents submitted to The Times, a lawyer for Gonzales said that the board was responsible for approving raises and that Gonzales had accepted them "in good faith" as gestures recognizing his "excellent work."

Gonzales' accomplishments in Las Cruces were cited by California education officials when they decided to return full local authority to Compton's schools last year after eight years of state management.

The criminal complaints involve misdemeanor violations of New Mexico's Open Meetings Act. They charge two current board members and three former members with approving hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra benefits for Gonzales without making the votes public.

Sam Thompson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said it was the first time the state had filed criminal complaints for a violation of open meetings law.

The board members, while acknowledging their error, have said they gave Gonzales the benefits to encourage him to turn down offers from other school districts.

In a statement, Patricia Madrid, the New Mexico attorney general, indicated the investigation was continuing but would turn to "civil enforcement remedies that may be available for returning money unlawfully spent by these board members."

That is a pointed reference to Gonzales. The Compton superintendent has refused appeals to return an estimated $390,000 in raises and benefits he received. He and the Las Cruces board members also remain under investigation by New Mexico prosecutors.

In Compton, school board members have expressed little interest in news reports of the New Mexico investigations. Last month, the Compton board unanimously passed a resolution declaring its support for Gonzales.

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