Montebello Unified School District was sued Thursday by a former schools chief and another top official who allege they were fired in 2016 for exposing political corruption.
Ex-Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith and former chief financial and operations officer Cleve Pell brought the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging they are whistleblowers who lost their jobs for coming forward about alleged misconduct by the Board of Education and Chief Business Officer Ruben J. Rojas.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to reinstatement.
Representatives for the MUSD and Rojas could not be immediately reached.
The suit states that Rojas, who was in charge of the district’s $300 million budget, “was directing lucrative MUSD contracts to cronies in violation of public contracting laws.”
Contreras Smith put Rojas on leave and she and Pell brought their findings to the board, the suit states. But those efforts were thwarted when the trustees “sought to cover up the web of corruption surrounding Rojas, engineered his return from leave by false pretenses and then voted to terminate Contreras Smith and Pell in retaliation for their whistleblowing.”
Rojas was hired by the MUSD in July 2015 at a time when the district had begun efforts to upgrade its aging school facilities, the suit states.
But as time went on, the plaintiffs found out that Rojas was “an individual who had crisscrossed California looking for school districts to exploit for his personal benefit,” the suit alleges.
Within a year of his hiring, Rojas awarded many lucrative MUSD contracts to people favored by him, violating the state’s Public Contract Code and other laws, according to the complaint.
Instead of heeding the concerns of Contreras and Smith, the board placed both on leave last October and fired them the next month, according to the lawsuit.
— City News Service
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