Editor's Note: A previous headline for this article stated that Silva-Banuelos was terminated for embezzlement. This has now been corrected. The Daily Lobo apologizes heavily for this error.
Alma Rosa Silva-Banuelos, the University of New Mexico LGBTQ Resource Center’s program specialist, has been terminated by the Office of Academic Affairs, following a UNM Internal Auditing Department review of the center’s financial transactions and travel.
Since Jan. 2016, Silva-Banuelos started “raising red flags” with purchases on her University issued Purchasing Card, former Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Dr. Jozi De Leon said in an email to Silva-Banuelos.
P-Cards are issued to UNM employees for the purpose of making purchases on behalf of the University that do not exceed $10,000 for approved transactions for goods, materials and supplies or $5,000 for transactions of approved services, according to the P-Card page on UNM’s website.
In De Leon’s email, she called the travel “excessive,” questioning whether it is necessary for more than one or two individuals to participate in trips. De Leon stated that Silva-Banuelos needed to pre-approve all travel with her.
According to the internal audit, there were unallowable and questioned costs concerning trips to Havana, Cuba; Ojo Caliente, New Mexico; Bangkok, Thailand; and Standing Rock, North Dakota. The trips to Ojo Caliente and Standing Rock were made without the required pre-approval. Her trip to Bangkok was cancelled, because it was not pre-approved.
Silva-Banuelos also made purchases at Smith’s grocery store using her P-Card.
“Some of the purchases made at Smith’s are questionable and look like someone’s grocery list,” De Leon said in the email. “There should be a certain safeguarding principle in spending when the majority of your funding is coming from the (Student Fee Review Board). These are precious student fee dollars, and it is especially important that management of those dollars are never brought into question.”
Silva-Banuelos’ activities also include purchases at local restaurants. She claimed these were part of a student advocacy training; however the audit determined there were no business purposes for the luncheons.
There were also alleged P-Card delays at this time.
During the fall of 2016, Silva-Banuelos requested $100,000 from the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant for use at the LGBTQ Resource Center’s new space at the UNM Gallup Campus.
The funds were intended to be used for building rent, travel/mileage costs and to pay Main Campus staff for their time spent in Gallup.
According to one of the emails in a lengthy chain with few responses from Silva-Banuelos, the grant submission was denied, because “there is not adequate time to pull everything together as well as that Dr. De Leon does not have enough information about the cost share to comfortably commit to it. Dr. De Leon has conveyed that it is feasible to consider the work already accomplished to partner on a future submission.”
Silva-Banuelos was placed on administrative leave pending the audit investigation.
On May 12, 2017 Silva-Banuelos was issued a Notice of Contemplated Action for insubordination, violation of P-Card policy, misappropriation of University funds and committing dishonest and fraudulent activities.
At the time of publication, both De Leon and the UNM LGBTQ Resource Center preferred not to comment.
Subsequent to the audit, De Leon has left UNM and is currently a staff member at Cal Poly State University.
A University statement reported that Lawrence Roybal will serve as UNM’s Acting Vice President for the Division of Equity and Inclusion, which oversees the LGBTQ Center.
“(Roybal) is working to ensure that the center provides safety, education, advocacy and support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning students at UNM as well as offers resources and services through outreach to the UNM community,” according to the statement.
Roybal also released a statement to the Daily Lobo, saying, “We are committed to ensuring that we provide for the safety, education, advocacy and support for our committed students as well as offering valuable resources and important services through outreach throughout UNM and the community alongside our dedicated staff, faculty, alumni and allies.”
Elizabeth Sanchez is the Editor-in-Chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.