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2 Former Montebello School Administrators Get Over $3M In Whistleblower Lawsuit

STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) — Two high-ranking education administrators who said they were fired for exposing corruption in their Southland school district have been awarded over $3 million in their lawsuit against the agency.

Former superintendent of the Montebello Unified School District Susanna Contreras Smith was awarded $2.7 million in damages for what she claimed was a retaliatory termination for calling out "crony" contracts. Former chief financial and operations officer Cleve Pell received $567,665.

According to their lawsuit, the two were fired for calling out former education board member and Chief Business Officer Ruben J. Rojas for misconduct. The lawsuit alleged Rojas, who was in charge of MUSD's $300 million budgets, "was directing lucrative MUSD contracts to cronies in violation of public contracting laws."

The lawsuit claimed Rojas awarded those contracts to companies he favored at a time when the district was upgrading facilities. He no longer works for the district.

A judge found two other administrators acted with malice, oppression and fraud against Smith and Pell. Board members Lani Chupchoy and Benjamin Cardenas were each ordered to pay $1 in punitive damages to each of the whistleblowers.

For its part, MUSD maintains it fired Smith and Pell legally and said it might appeal the jury's decision.

This decision comes the same day that former Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Ref Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a felony for reimbursing donors to his 2015 board campaign.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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