Guam Education Superintendent Files Complaint About Alleged Blackmail

Student allegedly sought payment from Fernandez to keep harassment claims quiet

By Haidee V Eugenio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 6, 2016) – Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez and the local education board filed criminal complaints with the island’s police department and the FBI against five people who allegedly attempted to blackmail Guam DOE, according to Fernandez.

The alleged blackmail, according to Fernandez, was tied to allegations of misconduct made against him.

The criminal complaint filed with the FBI, which was obtained by Pacific Daily News, states that public school principal Eleuterio Mesa accused Fernandez of “sexual harassment, possible sexual solicitation and possible official misconduct” toward a female student at J.P. Torres Alternative School in Santa Rita.

The Guam Education Board was made aware of these complaints on May 23 during a board meeting, according to the complaint. Mesa and the student, 18-year-old Alana Flores, were present at that meeting, the complaint states.

Flores on Wednesday said she wants money from the school system so she can complete her education in private school, but said the request is not blackmail.

Mesa said he has been helping Flores and her parents in their attempt to receive compensation from the school system. He said he made it clear to education officials he would not receive any of that money.

Flores and a former Guam DOE teacher, Marcia Palomo, filed allegations of misconduct against Fernandez with both the Guam Police Department and the Guam Education Board.

Flores alleges she received a text message from Fernandez that made her feel uncomfortable, according to Flores’ police complaint. Palomo alleges she saw Fernandez give Flores a “butt rub” at their school, J.P. Torres Alternative School, in March, Palomo’s complaint states.

Fernandez, in a written statement Wednesday, said the allegations against him are without merit.

The board and superintendent’s complaint that alleges the blackmail was filed against the principal, the former teacher, the student, and the student’s parents.

Mesa, the principal, was reassigned to Guam DOE’s central office in March because of an ongoing internal investigation of a separate matter, according to the complaint. The complaint does not describe that incident. In the coming school year, Mesa will be principal at J.P. Torres Alternative School, according to an earlier memo from the education department.

Palomo, the teacher, resigned from teaching at J.P. Torres in April while being investigated for an incident involving the discipline of a student, the department’s complaint states.

$10,000 request alleged

The criminal complaint alleges Mesa went to Guam Education Board Chairwoman Lourdes San Nicolas on June 24 and asked for $10,000.

The principal said he spoke on behalf of the student, Flores, and her mother, and if the money were provided, they “would drop the case and there would be no media exposure,” the complaint states.

Mesa told Pacific Daily News on Wednesday night that he met with the education board chairwoman on June 24, a Friday, to request $10,000 from the education department based on the request of the student and her parents.

“That was the asking price. The parents were the ones who asked for the money, $10,000,” Mesa said. “They said all they wanted was for their daughter to move to a private school, and the cost will be $6,000. But the parents said there will be a counter-offer from the board so instead of asking only $6,000, they raised it to $10,000.”

Mesa said he made it clear to the education board chair that he won’t get a single penny from the $10,000 that the parents asked.

“I just wanted to help my student and her parents,” he added.

Mesa said the education department has owed him about $300,000 for years — demotion and termination back pay that the court ordered the department to pay — and he hasn’t received a penny from the judgment.

Fernandez and Mesa separately acknowledged they are trying to resolve this matter separately.

The complaint filed with the FBI describes other demands from Mesa, Flores and the other individuals, including the former J.P. Torres teacher, Palomo, wanting her job back and the mother of Flores wanting a Guam DOE position.

Flores in a separate interview with Pacific Daily News Wednesday night, said it isn’t true that she and her family are blackmailing the education department.

“The board asked me what I want, so I told them I want to get to a private school and they have to pay for it. It’s not blackmail,” Flores said, adding that the cost is about $6,000, including the school uniform cost.

Flores said if the education department is able to give the money so she can enroll at a private school, then she will drop the complaints she filed against Fernandez.

“It is not as if I will use the money for anything else but to go to another school,” she added.

When the education board initially asked her what she wanted, she said she wanted justice and that at the time, she believed there were others receiving inappropriate text messages from the education superintendent.

The teacher, Marcia Palomo, told Pacific Daily News Wednesday night that it’s not true she wanted her job back at J.P. Torres Alternative School.

She said she stands by her report filed with the Guam Police Department on June 20 that states she witnessed Fernandez “butt rub” her former student, Flores, during a school event at the J.P. Alternative School.

“I did not ask for my job back,” Palomo said, who added that she resigned on April 6.

Fernandez wouldn’t go on the record to comment about the blackmail complaint.

“It is my hope and expectation that the police and FBI will investigate this matter thoroughly,” Fernandez said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Seven of nine education board members joined Fernandez in the filing of the complaint.

The demand for money was also in exchange for the five individuals not going to the media to talk about the allegations against Fernandez, the complaint says.

Information reviewed

Meanwhile, Sen. Nerissa Underwood, chairwoman of the Legislature’s public education committee, said Wednesday afternoon that she asked for a hearing on Guam DOE’s budget to be postponed because of reports she received about misconduct allegations against the education superintendent, and counter-allegations involving attempts to extort money from the superintendent or the department.

The budget hearing for Guam DOE was supposed to be Wednesday morning.

“These are serious accusations because these are direct attacks to the integrity of the department in protecting students and employees,” Underwood said. “This is also a direct attack on the integrity of the superintendency. I have gone on record (about) my confidence in Superintendent Fernandez. ... But whenever there is a complaint that is coming from one of our students, we take that seriously.”

But after a closed-door meeting with Guam Education Board acting chair Rosie Tainatongo and member Ryan Torres at her office on Wednesday, Underwood said she was told that the board is addressing the matter.

“But I don’t know the next steps that they will be taking,” Underwood said.

Underwood said she asked the budget hearing for Guam DOE be set for next week or before July 15.

“The budget process is still very important but we just don’t want both issues crossing each other without clarity,” she added.

Tainatongo and Torres declined to comment after their meeting with Underwood.

But hours later, Tainatongo and Torres issued a statement that said the Guam Education Board is aware of the allegations made against the education superintendent and took appropriate actions with the guidance of the education department’s legal counsel.

They said these include accepting documents from the complainants on nine occasions in May through June, and meeting with the complainants in person and on the phone and attempted mediation to resolve the matter.

“The Guam Education Board reviewed the documents provided as well as the other information presented during meetings and discussions,” the board said.

It said because the matter is pending investigation by GPD and the FBI, the board is not able to provide further comment on the matter at this time.

Pacific Daily News
Copyright © 2016 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment