Spaceport America’s former CFO Zach De Gregorio has filed a complaint alleging racketeering, securities fraud, and whistleblower persecution by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials related to his termination from his job at the state-run facility. The Las Cruces Sun-Newsreports:
In a 250-page complaint filed in the state’s first judicial district in Santa Fe, Zach De Gregorio alleges he was effectively terminated after he filed a whistleblower complaint that triggered a 2020 investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement, ethical violations and abuse of power by the spaceport’s former director, Dan Hicks.
Hicks, who did not comment publicly on the claims, was terminated in 2021 and succeeded by Scott McLaughlin….
De Gregorio, who now resides in Arizona, alleges a broad conspiracy involving Lujan Grisham, state auditor Brian Colón, state Attorney General Hector Balderas, spaceport personnel and the New Mexico Finance Authority “to commit procurement fraud, commit securities fraud, break multiple Federal laws, and commit violations of the NM Whistleblower Protection Act.”
While the filing states several complaints about Colón’s office, the state auditor noted that only “the state of New Mexico” is named as a party to the case as initially filed.
A report commissioned by the state concluded that De Gregorio had aided Hicks in various illegal and unethical actions while both men worked at the spaceport.
De Gregorio has posted a PDF version of his lawsuit for download here.
The Santa Fe New Mexicanreports that State Auditor Brian Colón is investigating the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), and the state Economic Development Department has hired an outside accounting firm to perform an independent forensic audit of the organization that runs Spaceport America.
The investigations followed claims by NMSA’s former chief financial officer that CEO Dan Hicks had pressured him to ignore accounting procedures. Hicks is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the inquiries.
Colón said Monday he couldn’t release the complaint that prompted him to open the investigation, but said he began the inquiry in June, one day after former Chief Financial Officer Zach De Gregorio resigned, citing frustration with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board’s response to his whistleblower complaint about CEO Dan Hicks’ alleged attempts to get him and others to circumvent accounting protocols.
“Daniel Hicks has shown gross mismanagement and abuse of authority,” De Gregorio wrote in his complaint. “He has consistently applied pressure to the CFO and the accounting staff to bend the rules. This pressure has reached the point where I feel like my ethical ability to act as a check and balance for financial decisions in the Agency is compromised. This has created a toxic environment where there is no longer adequate internal controls at the NM Spaceport Authority, which could lead to fraud.”
De Gregorio also accused Hicks of attempting to block and interfere with his communications with state Economic Development Department Secretary Alicia Keyes and the Spaceport board.
“Daniel Hicks often talks about that it is his money and his authority and he should be able to do what he wants,” DeGregorio wrote in his complaint. “Zach De Gregorio reminds him that it is the State of New Mexico’s money and the board’s authority and the Agency has to follow the process.”
The newspaper also reports that former NMSA employee Karen Barker has filed a complaint saying Hicks had created a toxic work environment and retaliated against her after she complained she was being paid less male counterparts.