Fired coach's appeal is denied

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Former Taos High School basketball coach Richard Apodaca had no comment Wednesday (Dec. 5) after the Taos Municipal Board of Education denied his appeal to get his teaching job back.

Apodaca was fired from his dual positions of boys’ basketball coach and special education teacher at Taos High School in October amid much controversy over some missing and reprinted receipts from purchased meals for team trips as far back as 2004.

Terrence Kamm, a Ratón attorney with Kamm & McConnell, said that Apodaca could have exercised common sense, but chose instead to be dishonest. “Mama told us all when we were growing up that this is how you deal with other people’s money,” Kamm said. “Mr. Apodaca chose a method over three years of bringing false receipts to the finance director and business office.”

After a day-long appeal hearing initiated by Apodaca, the board found in favor of the evidence stacked against the fired coach, which included at least 14 reprinted receipts from Taos’ Subway restaurant. The receipts, in the board’s view, were evidence enough that Apodaca was providing false vouchers to the district’s business office.

The process began when Apodaca was first hired as coach in 2004 and began cashing checks issued from the school for the team’s meals during away games. The school district allows $5 per athlete. Apodaca testified that rather than going back to the restaurants and asking for replacement receipts, he replaced them with Subway receipts.  

He testified that he was just trying to show the money had been spent, as he was advised to do by other coaches. “The receipts were never meant to defraud anyone. The receipts were there to say how much we spent, not to say we ate at Subway,” Apodaca told the board. “I totally believe I was doing the right thing. I have nothing to hide and that’s why we’re here today.”

Apodaca’s attorney Alan Maestas told the board that the fault was not in his client’s actions, but the lack of propriety in the school system. “This is not an issue about what Mr. Apodaca did. There is no procedure in place to say to school employees, this is how you account for funds,” Maestas said.

Interim Superintendent Rose Martínez testified that the question of Apodaca’s honesty was first brought to her attention by Subway restaurant owner Kent Lewis, who was once one of Apodaca’s assistant coaches. Martínez said Lewis told her he had to come forward “for the kids.”

Martínez told the board she first met with Lewis in June. “At that point, I dismissed it,” Martínez said. “I had no reason to believe Mr. Lewis was telling me the truth.”

When Lewis paid her another visit in September, Martínez decided to pull every check issued to Apodaca in his three-year term and review the receipts associated with those checks.

In two cases, Apodaca submitted official letters to the business office explaining that he was either missing a receipt or that the leftover funds from a check had been stolen from his office. In that instance, Apodaca filed a letter and a police report regarding the missing money.

School union representative Hillary McPartlon said the issue about the receipts may have been spurred by a personality conflict between Lewis and Apodaca. McPartlon was present at the Oct. 1 meeting between Apodaca and Martínez.

“It was brought up at the meeting to Ms. Martínez that Mr. Lewis may make accusations against Mr. Apodaca,” McPartlon told the board.

“I had recently told Mr. Lewis that I would not be asking him to return (as coach),” Apodaca testified.

Martínez said it was because Apodaca had filed letters concerning the missing receipts in the past that made her wonder about his honesty. “My understanding was that Mr. Apodaca knew what to do when he lost a receipt because he had filed letters,” Martínez said.

That didn’t explain why Apodaca felt a reprinted receipt was acceptable, Kamm argued. Martínez said Apodaca told her he had permission from current Socorro High principal and former Taos High principal Tom Trujillo to reprint receipts. “I asked him why he didn’t go to the athletic director instead, and he told me (former athletic director) Robbie Trujillo was gone,” Martínez said. “My first thought was, how could he have been gone three years?”

Martínez testified that most of the receipts were reprinted and the tops were torn off to conceal the date, time and vendor of the receipts. Maestas maintained that the only questionable character in the case was that of Lewis. Lewis was not called as a witness during the hearing for unspecified reasons.

Other coaches including Taos High School football coach Lonnie Cook supported Apodaca’s claim that no written procedure was presented to coaches regarding how money was to be handled. “I was not given an orientation or told how to handle receipts,” Cook said. “But I’ve never lost a receipt.”

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