Attorneys for the state Public Regulation Commission on Thursday wrapped up their defense against a "whistle-blower" lawsuit brought by Aaron Feliciano, a former compliance director of the commission's Insurance Division, by calling a witness who questioned Feliciano's honesty.
Carol Rising, former chief counsel and director of the commission's Legal Division, testified that Feliciano falsely claimed he was a certified public accountant in New Mexico during his testimony in an insurance case, on his business cards and in his email signature block.
Rising said the New Mexico Board of Public Accountancy reported that Feliciano had never been licensed as a CPA in New Mexico, and the Illinois Board of Public Accountancy informed her that Feliciano held a degree from the University of Illinois that "entitled Mr. Feliciano to tell his friends and relatives that he was a CPA."
After the New Mexico Board of Public Accountancy launched an investigation, Rising said, Feliciano quit claiming to be a CPA on his business cards and email, and the board dropped its investigation after determining that Feliciano had only made "an error in verb tense" and corrected it by saying that he "was" a CPA, rather than "is."
Rising said her inquiries into Feliciano's problems with other staffers also determined that he had made false accusations against a co-worker and falsely claimed that his wife's business, Rock Paper Scissor Salon Spa, had been the target of an unexplained tax audit.
Asked why even minor falsehoods are significant, Rising said people who testify on behalf of the Insurance Division need to tell the truth because otherwise "the question comes to mind, 'What else might that person be lying about?' ... It would [undermine] the integrity of the whole enforcement process."
Rising recommended Feliciano take training in "team building" and the "unauthorized practice of accountancy" rather than be fired, but he was terminated from his exempt position in 2009 by former commission chief of staff Danny Mayfield on the recommendation of former division director Morris Chavez.
A year later, Feliciano sued the commission, Mayfield and Chavez for wrongful termination, claiming they had retaliated against him for pointing out problems in the state agency that included hiring political contributors to conduct ineffective, costly and slow investigations into insurance fraud.
Feliciano's lawyers say his is the first case to reach trial under the state's 2010 Whistleblower Protection Act that calls for, among other things, double damages for plaintiffs who have been fired in retaliation for their efforts to expose corruption in state government.
Jason Marks, a former PRC member, also testified for the defense Thursday. Feliciano's lawyers called Feliciano, former PRC human-resources director Houghanne Maxwell-Loux, Chavez and Mayfield, now a Santa Fe County commissioner, before resting their case Wednesday.
State District Judge Raymond Ortiz told the jury to return by 10 a.m. Friday to hear closing arguments and final jury instructions so they could begin deliberations after lunch and possibly render a verdict by the end of the day.
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