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Giant holes in background check process

A startling pattern of New Mexico granting social worker licenses to people with criminal backgrounds was revealed in a December broadcast by Albuquerque news station KRQE.

One applicant admitted to being convicted three times of DWI, but claimed that she had since gone on the straight and narrow. Peralta failed to mention that just four months earlier she was convicted of a fourth DWI, which resulted in a felony conviction.

Another applicant, Lori Vallejos, admitted on her application (as required by law) that she was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but was granted a license as a social worker. Vallejos claimed that the assault was simply a misunderstanding and that she was moving a gun from one room to another during an argument when the weapon happened to go off.

“As a board – all the records and all the information provided to the board – the board felt she was worthy of being licensed,” said Alfredo Garcia, the head of the state board. However, the board may not have seen the police report, which stated that Vellejos intentionally fired a gun at her boyfriend when he refused to buy her drugs.

Garcia contends that part of the problem is that the state has been stuck with a law that does not allow the board to require background checks of applicants. The law hasn’t been updated since 1987.

“Our primary mission is to protect the general population,” Garcia said. “If there are cases that are falling through the cracks – then we need to reassess the law.”