2022 Governor's Race

FACT CHECK: KOAT Verifies Ronchetti’s Ad in Child Molestation Case Against Dow’s Daycare

A local TV news station has weighed in on the back-and-forth between GOP gubernatorial candidates Mark Ronchetti and Rebecca Dow over allegations of Dow’s role in a child molestation case that resulted in the perpetrator’s imprisonment and a $260,000 settlement for the victims.

Last week, Ronchetti released the following ad: 

“Deeply troubling. Rebecca Dow ran a taxpayer-funded daycare. Her employee was accused of lewd conduct. Dow still promoted him, put him in charge of children at an overnight sleepover, where he assaulted them. Dow tried to bully the victim’s family, but they stood up and sued Dow. The predator was sent to prison, and the lawsuit? Victims were paid $260,000. Rebecca Dow can’t be trusted.” 

— Troubling ad

Dow responded with her own ad:

“It’s shocking how blatantly dishonest Mark Ronchetti will be to win an election. His claims are false, and slanderous, as I’m sure a judge will agree. I’ve dedicated my life to helping children learn and grow, serving on dozens of children’s charity boards. Mark Ronchetti knows I had no involvement in this incident, but he’s so desperate for power he’s willing to use abused children and their families for political gain. That is inexcusable.” 

— Inexcusable ad

KOAT evaluated the allegations. These are their findings:

CLAIM: Did Dow run a taxpayer funded daycare?

According to her bio and tax documents obtained by KOAT, “Dow was running two organizations, AppleTree Educational Center and Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County. According to the state’s checkbook, AppleTree received more than $8 million since 2009, and is still receiving money.”

CLAIM: Was Dow’s employee accused of lewd conduct with a teenager and promoted?

KOAT: Court documents of the lawsuit against Dow claim “Dow was aware of a previous incident in which Hernandez had, quote, ‘inappropriately questioned at least one teenaged girl about having sex with her boyfriend.’ The suit says Hernandez was not fired and instead received a written warning. Court records show Hernandez later oversaw the sleepover. The suit also says, after the first incident, Dow had interviewed Hernandez for a promotion and wanted him to get one. However, it is not clear if he was actually promoted.”

CLAIM: Dow tried to bully the victim’s family to discourage them from filing a lawsuit. The predator was sent to prison, and families paid a $260,000 settlement.

KOAT: “The lawsuit shows Dow was accused of trying to coerce the boy’s family from filing a claim.”

“Court documents show Hernandez pled guilty to two counts of criminal sexual contact, and was sentenced to six years in prison. The case was settled. However, it’s not clear how much the two childcare centers run by Dow paid out. Many of the documents in reference to the settlement have been sealed.”

While records prove the perpetrator was an employee, did plead guilty, and was sentenced to six years in prison, the absence of documentation of the settlement prevented KOAT from verifying the settlement amount. However, news reports at the time confirm Dow settled the lawsuit for $260,000, citing audio of the court hearing in the 7th Judicial District Court.

DOW’S RESPONSE: Dow told KOAT she sat on board of Boys and Girls Club but said the staff oversaw day-to-day operations, and the organization called parents in the club to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.

That was the extend of her response to KOAT.

WHAT DOW DOESN’T SAY: Dow doesn’t deny the facts of the case. By accusing Ronchetti of “re-victimizing” the molested children, she acknowledges the abuse occurred. Stating that she sat on the board may not be false, but Dow does not discredit documentation showing her role extended well beyond a board seat. And finally, while her efforts to reach out to other potential victims is admirable — and parents should expect nothing less — this statement appears to be a redirection from the actual questions KOAT asked. 

Dow doesn’t address whether or not she promoted or advocated for the promotion of the perpetrator, and she doesn’t address the settlement amount. Dow previously told The Santa Fe New Mexican that “the Boys & Girls Club of Sierra County paid the settlement,” and that her name “was removed from the lawsuit without prejudice.”

Other than asking for her comment, KOAT did not fact check Dow’s statements on this, and to date she has not provided documentation to support her claims.

Despite stated that Ronchetti’s “timeline and incidents described are factually inaccurate,” but KOAT’s investigation proved otherwise. Regarding the ancillary details they couldn’t prove through public records, Dow’s campaign has not refuted or provided records clarifying.

As for the settlement, NM Political Report’s Andy Lyman wrote in a March 16, 2017 article titled “State lawmaker settles lawsuit for $260,000” that he obtained audio of the “hour-long hearing” through a public records request where attorneys discussed the payout. 

“Attorney fees and court costs will consume about $90,000, leaving the child with about $160,000 that will be paid out in installments. Attorney Mark Filosa, who represented the boy’s parents, said he was eager to secure at least part of the settlement.” 

— Andy Lyman, NM Political Report

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