SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After months of secrecy, the state has released new details on a series of confidential, high-profile lawsuit settlements reached at the end of Governor Susana Martinez’s administration.
KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker first exposed $1.7 million in sealed settlements for six state employees. The employees filed claims with New Mexico’s Risk Management Office in late November of last year, claiming harassment, hostile work environment, and unfair treatment in the final days of Governor Susana Martinez’s administration.
Tuesday, the state released settlement letters tied to three of those six cases. The settlement letters detail the individual amounts paid out to former DPS deputy secretary Amy Orlando, DPS supervisor Terri Thornberry and DPS administrator Dianna Dejarnette.
While each of the claimants made individual allegations related to the workplace, sources tell Larry Barker the Martinez Administration opted to settle the cases quickly, fearing the possible release of compromising information about then-Governor Susana Martinez.
Due to his involvement in the Department of Public Safety, former New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas has first-hand knowledge of the cases.
In his May report, Barker asked Kassetas what he thought the public would believe if they were able to look at the facts of each case.
“I think the public would be outraged that these cases were settled without proper investigation,” said Kassetas.
When DPS Deputy Secretary Amy Orlando was transferred to another agency, she filed a claim against the state alleging discrimination. Her claim was settled for $300,000 without any investigation.
After DPS Supervisor Terri Thornberry was reprimanded, she also alleged discrimination. Thornberry claimed, in part, her work conditions caused her stress and she no longer walks her dog. According to an independent investigation of Thornberry’s claim by an outside law firm, it did not find evidence of gender or age discrimination. Risk Mangement settled Thornberry’s claim for $400,000.
DPS employee Dianna Dejarnette also claimed discrimination, and the stress caused her in part, dizzy spells. The state’s Risk Mangement department did not investigate, but the case was settled for $300,000.
When asked his opinion of what the cases were about, Kassetas said he believed the cases were about “Governor Martinez, politics and greed.”
In a December 5 settlement demand, an attorney who represented three state employees referenced damaging information about the governor professionally and personally.
In the same letter, the attorney writes, “we have compelling and irrefutable evidence of the governor’s significant personal issues and instances of inappropriate behavior.”
There were three other sealed documents that will be made public August 24, involving former Deputy State Police Chief, Ryan Suggs, State Police Sergeant Monica Martinez-Jones, and retired State Police Sergeant Julia Armendariz.
Armendariz admits, through her attorney, Governor Martinez directed her to record a phone conversation with First Gentleman Chuck Franco. Those sources say Franco made politically explosive comments about his wife. The former governor denies that claim.
Larry Barker’s investigation has since sparked changes in how state settlements are handled, with the state vowing to begin putting the settlements online starting in August. The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office has also launched an investigation into the settlements.
There are three other sealed settlement letters tied to the Martinez Administration that the state has yet to release. The state is expected to make those public on August 24, 2019.
Former New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas issued the following response:
Amy Orlando Settlement Letter (PDF)
From the beginning of this ordeal I took the position the claims made against me were false and defendable and I still believe that to this very day. Not a single female officer on the State Police has come forward verifying the claims made against me because they did not happen.
I am not named in the DeJarnette settlement at all, only Scott Weaver. As it relates to the Thornberry claims they were investigated by a third party hired by RMD. I possess two reports from the attorney that determined the claims were not supported. Orlando’s claims were never investigated before RMD settled.
The attorneys for the plaintiffs all agreed to keeping this settlement sealed and confidential until 12/29/2022. That is unethical and a violation of the law. That very fact should lead the pubic to question the motives of everyone involved. The system in New Mexico is broken. RMD should never be used as a slush fund to cover up politicians misconduct.
The only silver lining I see is the current administration and legislature are making efforts to ensure this does not happen again. However, the fact that the tax payers shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to get us to this point is unforgivable.Pete Kassetas, Former New Mexico State Police Chief
Amy Orlando Settlement Letter (Text) Dianna Dejarnette Settlement Letter (PDF)
Dianna Dejarnette Settlement Letter (Text) Terri Thornberry Settlement Letter (PDF)
Terri Thornberry Settlement Letter (Text) Terri Thornberry Checks (PDF)
Terri Thornberry Checks (Text)