(This article was originally published on November 25)
How does a high profile fraud suspect, out on bond, awaiting trial on multiple felonies, end up in a public school classroom?
“I’ve seen a lot of good and bad over eight years, but this is truly horrifying,” Marty Esquivel with the APS School Board said.
William Kalinowski is accused of bilking dozens of victims out of millions of dollars.
“It is outrageous that we would hire a man like this,” Esquivel said.
Today, Kalinowski is an accredited teacher at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School.
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KRQE News 13 first reported on Kalinowski in 2013. He was a Santa Fe contractor, with an award winning reputation for quality, style and luxury. However, his sterling reputation soured after millions of dollars disappeared and construction projects were abandoned.
Some victims were cheated out of their life savings.
“He defrauded me…he stole from me…he lied to me…and he bankrupt me,” Michael.D’Allfonso said.
D’Alfonso lost $500,000. Stefan Lark lost $600,000.
“Fraud, deceit, lies, misuse of funds, misappropriation of funds, it’s all there,” Lark said.
Doug Strasser lost $250,000.
“The money just disappeared and he’s never offered any explanation of where it went…It’s just plain straight out wrong,” Strasser said.
The money was not the only thing to disappear. After filing bankruptcy the luxury homebuilder vanished. News 13 found Kalinowski living on a rented estate in the seaside village of Duxbury, south of Boston.
After a criminal investigation last fall, a Santa Fe grand jury indicted Kalinowski on 10 counts of fraud and embezzlement. He was then arrested in Massachusetts and brought back to face felony charges in New Mexico.
In October 2013, Kalinowski bonded out of jail and was electronically monitored by a court ordered ankle bracelet.
While awaiting trial, Kalinowski applied to the Public Education Department for a teaching license in New Mexico. No one at the PED noticed he had a pending felony indictment.
“Apparently there were some indictments in place at the time that we were not aware of and although he indicated that he had some allegations of fraud in his past. We didn’t uncover that and we issued the license,” Deputy Secretary for the Public Education Department Paul Aguilar said. “The department did not follow up the specific allegations of the fraud.”
Kalinowski’s felony indictment was apparently missing from a PED ordered FBI background check.
With his New Mexico certified teaching certificate, Kalinowski looked for a job with Santa Fe Public Schools. However, the school district rejected his application. That is when he went to Albuquerque Public Schools looking for a job.
Five months after being charged with 10 felonies, APS hired Kalinowski as a language arts teacher.
“The notion that we have somebody in the classroom wearing an ankle bracelet is astounding to me,” Esquivel said.
How did it happen?
APS did not ask Kalinowski about his background because the district was not allowed to ask.
An obscure state statute prohibits public agencies from asking prospective job seekers about their criminal history. APS could not ask Kalinowski about his pending criminal charge and he wasn’t about to volunteer it.
Former state representative Al Park, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee in 2010 when the measure was passed, said it’s a well-intentioned law with an unanticipated loophole.
“It does have a loophole in it. There’s no question and … the incident you are talking about right now is a perfect example of that loophole,” Park said. “This is a person who has been charged with a crime of moral turpitude, embezzlement, fraud and that is the kind of crime you want to know about when you are thinking about hiring someone in a position of trust.”
Park says the loophole needs to be fixed.
The statute however does not take APS off the hook. Before Kalinowski was hired as a teacher, a background check showed an arrest warrant. No one at APS ever asked what the arrest was for.
“Here’s a guy who had plenty of red flags. He had a bench warrant. He had a pretty serious criminal indictment. He’s wearing an ankle bracelet in the classroom,” Esquivel said. “This is something that there’s really no excuse that we really should have picked up.”
Last week, APS placed Kalinowski on administrative leave pending a review of his employment.
“It was a major mistake to hire him,” Esquivel said. “It’s a major mistake to have him in our classroom. He is innocent until proven guilty, but it’s not the type of individual we want within APS.”
Kalinowski’s state teaching credentials are also under review.
“There were mistakes made. Being teachers and being the Public Education Department we look for teachable moments,” Aguilar said. “Things did fall through the cracks. We want to identify where they fell through the cracks and make sure our staff is prepared to ensure that they don’t fall through in the future.”