SANTA FE, N.M. – The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) has settled a lawsuit brought by a former manager who alleged the agency retaliated against him for making allegations of rampant fraud in a series of local newspaper reports.
Robert Ortiz, deputy director of the DOH’s administrative services division, alleged he was fired in June 2012 for exposing financial fraud within the agency’s federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
The Santa Fe Reporter picked up the story, interviewing Mr. Ortiz and another whistleblower who made additional allegations of financial fraud and nepotistic hiring practices by the agency’s upper ranks. One whistleblower complaint said the “corrupt power structure” was so intense that it created an “environment of fear” among the department’s workers.
The Santa Fe Reporter ran a number of detailed, comprehensive investigative reports about the alleged fraud, prompting the agency’s lawyer to subpoena the reporter’s notes.
That subpoena triggered heated protests from the New Mexico Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists-Rio Grande chapter and brought the case under close scrutiny throughout New Mexico. The Santa Fe Reporter fought the subpoena, and its lawyer said that the whistleblower’s settlement puts the matter to rest.
Mr. Ortiz, who went to the Department of Health in 2008 after a 27-year career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, alleged he discovered $1.7 million in misappropriated and improperly reported funds. DOH officials disputed his claim, blaming the numbers on “accounting errors and systemic issues” rather than fraud.
The details of the settlement between Mr. Ortiz and the DOH have not yet been made public.