New Mexico

Lawsuit: DA violated Whistleblower Protection Act, offered legal favors in exchange for loans

Whistleblower lawsuit

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - ​​​​​A lawsuit filed Monday against Dona Ana County District Attorney Mark D'Antonio alleges his office improperly used funds, discriminated against women and retained employees as political favors. 

ABC-7's New Mexico Mobile Newsroom obtained the lawsuit filed by Marylou Bonacci, D'Antonio's former district office manager.

Bonacci alleges D'Antonio's office violated the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act. She said she was demoted, subject to a hostile work environment and eventually fired after reporting alleged misconduct within the office. 

A spokesman with D'Antonio's office told ABC-7 the district attorney strongly denies the allegations.

Soon after being hired, the lawsuit states, Bonnaci told D’Antonio she believed his meetings with criminal defendants and their family members, alone in his office without attorneys present, were unlawful. 

In late 2014, the lawsuit states, the office of the district attorney hired a chief deputy.

Bonacci told D'Anotnio the hiring was unlawful because the person hired was not licensed by the State of New Mexico and wasn't in good standing with another bar. The district attorney hired the person for the position despite Bonacci's warning, the lawsuit states.

Bonacci told D'Antonio the deputy treated employees as his personal staff and alleged the deputy discriminated against her and other females. 

The lawsuit states D'Antonio's office attempted to give the chief deputy a pay raise, but it was difficult because he was unlicensed and not in good standing. 

The lawsuit further states, that in February 2015, a female attorney was promoted along with a male attorney. The lawsuit alleges the male employee was paid more than the female employee. Bonacci reportedly expressed her concerns to D'Antonio and his staff. 

In March of 2015, Bonacci told her boss about alleged misconduct regarding the deputy chief. The lawsuit states Bonacci also reported an assistant district attorney allegedly showed up to work intoxicated. She told D'Antonio that simply sending the intoxicated employee home was not proper disciplinary action. 

From January to April of 2015, Bonacci continued to report acts of discrimination against females, the lawsuit states.

Bonacci also alleged D'Antonio discussed his financial problems with her and sought "loans of money" from her. The lawsuit states D'Antonio sometimes paid Bonacci back. 

In March 2015, Bonacci's friend was arrested for drug possession. The lawsuit alleges D'Antonio indicated, that in exchange for a loan, he would dismiss the criminal charges against her friend. 

The lawsuit states Bonacci told a third party and the FBI initiated an investigation into D’Antonio.  ABC-7 reached out to FBI Spokesman Frank Fischer, who said as part of policy, they neither confirm nor deny reports of the investigation. 

The lawsuit states Bonacci was demoted as a form of retaliation. Bonnaci then spoke out about the "heavy, unmanageable, out of control caseloads and mismanagement" in the office. She feared the issues were a public safety concern.  

Bonnaci alleged further retaliation as she was subjected to a hostile work environment, the lawsuit states. Bonacci alleges she continued to speak out about misconduct, and when D'Antonio became aware of the FBI investigation, she was disciplined. 

In September of 2015, Bonacci reported a supervisor was sexually harassing interns, the lawsuit states.

On September 14, 2015, she was discharged. Bonacci's attorneys told ABC-7 their client had no comment regarding the lawsuit. 

Damien Willis, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, sent ABC-7 the following statement:

“We are aware of the existence of a lawsuit that was filed Monday, but have not yet received personal service of any documents and cannot respond to any of the specific allegations in this pending matter. However, we deny, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations set forth in the filing, and believe them to be spurious, outlandish and patently false.”

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