Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Former spaceport official finds attorney for whistleblower suit | Local News

Two Albuquerque law firms will represent the former Chief Financial Officer of Spaceport America in his whistleblower complaint accusing state officials of defrauding $200 million in taxpayers and seeking revenge on him for exposing mismanagement .

Zach DeGregorio, who filed his first complaint in the district court without an attorney two weeks ago, is now being represented by Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates LLP and the law firms of Marshall J. Ray.

“This is probably one of the best-documented and one of the most egregious retaliatory actions taken against a whistleblower,” said attorney Blair Dunn. “He did everything he should do as a whistleblower. In response, they turned around and started an investigation and made him the subject of that investigation.”

Upper managers forced DeGregorio to resign, Dunn said.

Officials from the spaceport and the governor’s office have said they will not comment on a pending court case.

DeGregorio’s lawsuit has been revised to better meet standards for filing whistleblower complaints, such as: B. Limiting legal action to the direct employer rather than suing all companies and executives associated with that employer, Dunn said.

DeGregorio previously sued the state of New Mexico, trying to make felonies for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of Economic Development Alicia J. Keyes and other state officials, Dunn said.

Suing anyone who may have been involved in retaliation is not appropriate for whistleblowing cases, Dunn said.

Although not an employer, state auditor Brian Colón is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which alleges he conspired to commit procurement and securities fraud and violated whistleblower laws.

Lujan Grisham, Keyes, Attorney General Hector Balderas and some spaceport managers and contractors remain in the narrative of the lawsuit describing their alleged improprieties, Dunn said.

DeGregorio, who left the spaceport in June 2020, had sought about $11 million in damages, but listing dollar amounts isn’t typically done in whistleblower cases, Dunn said.

The lawsuit paints a complex picture of multiple government agencies working together to cover up state efforts to ensure New Mexico’s Treasury Department remains able to refinance the spaceport’s binding power.

The spaceport near Truth or Consequences cost around $200 million to build. The state paid two-thirds of this, with the remainder being covered by a gross receipts tax approved by Sierra and Doña Ana counties.

DeGregorio claims in his complaint that it would have saved the state tens of millions of dollars, if not more, if it had allowed a private company to do the refinancing.

DeGregorio’s lawsuit comes about 13 months after Colón released a damning report that said former spaceport director Dan Hicks mishandled funds — including gross receipts tax revenue — and potentially violated laws and codes of ethics.

This report was initiated, at least in part, by DeGregorio, who filed a complaint accusing Hicks of pressuring him to ignore procedures designed to account for public spending.

However, state officials treated DeGregorio as if he had worked with Hicks — despite his insistence, he was at odds with the former director — and they conducted a flawed audit to back up their allegations, Dunn said.

Even if DeGregorio does not receive damages, he still exposed mismanagement to increase government accountability, the ultimate goal of a whistleblower complaint, Dunn said.

“It’s not every day that someone takes on such a big political fight,” Dunn said.

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