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Did Hernandez-Mats Protect a Sexual Predator Over Middle School Students?

Karla Hernandez-Mats put union politics before the safety of middle school students, as she ran interference for a union colleague who turned out to be a sexual predator, DeSantis argues.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY — After Governor Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday that Charlie Crist’s running mate Karla Hernandez-Mats should be disqualified from political office, media outlets quickly asked what proof the governor had for the basis of his allegations.

Hernandez-Mats put union politics ahead of middle school safety, according to the governor. The accusations relate to Wendell Nibbs, who taught at Brownsville Middle School and later became a union building steward.

Multiple students and a teacher accused Nibbs of sexual misconduct, assault, and rape from 2004 to 2015, yet the union did not investigate or approach authorities. Questions arose about how the union ignored allegations against Nibbs for almost 12 years.

Samantha Ramirez, campaign communications director for Crist, told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday “It’s a lie. And to top it off, it’s coming from a governor whose own campaign was led [in 2018] by accused child sexual predator Matt Gaetz, and whose disgusting actions DeSantis still refuses to condemn.”


But Nibbs pleaded guilty to two counts of child sexual abuse. The guilty plea allowed him to avoid further prosecution on more than 12 other charges. In 2020, Nibbs was sentenced to eight years in prison. In addition, he will face 10 years of probation and will be on the sexual predator list for the rest of his life.

Nine girls accused Nibbs of sexual assault and rape during his 15 years at the Miami-Dade public schools. They detailed, with texts and photographs, his coercion tactics, explicit comments, and repeated rape inside the classrooms at Brownsville Middle school.

“You do not put union politics ahead of middle school students who are in danger of being sexually abused… that’s disqualifying to be in any political office, much less Lieutenant Governor of the state of Florida,” said DeSantis at a press conference on Tuesday.

Where was Karla Hernandez Mats during the allegations?

A Timeline of Hernandez-Mats and Wendell Nibbs Working Relationship

2004: First allegation of sexual misconduct by a 14-year-old student against Nibbs. Two students came forward, deemed “unsubstantiated.”

2006: 3rd student accuses Nibbs of sexual harassment

February 2013: Hernandez-Mats was elected secretary/treasurer of United Teachers of Dade (UTD)

February 2013 to February 2016: Hernandez-Mats serves as UTD secretary/treasurer. During this time, Nibbs was an active member of UTD’s Frontline Caucus, the caucus Mats belonged to, and they frequently worked together.

With Hernandez-Mats serving as UTD secretary/treasurer and at the top of the Frontline Caucus ticket:

“The United Teachers of Dade knew Nibbs was frequently in trouble. A UTD representative accompanied Nibbs through investigations of five of the allegations that were sexual in nature, including one where a fellow teacher accused him of groping her. The same UTD representative was present for two of the investigations.”

Nibbs was elected as a building steward. Other stewards said leadership at UTD used Nibbs to intimidate other stewards.

Fellow UTD Steward Mary Milan said of Nibbs: “He was their [Hernandez-Mats/Leadership’s] attack dog. Any time someone opposed to the leadership stood up and said something. He was one of the loudest voices who said, ‘Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’…This is the kind of people that Frontline is aligning themselves with.”

"Nibbs often defended the group against critics online and traveled with UTD to lobby in Tallahassee. There are multiple photos of Nibbs posing with UTD’s executive board, many of which Nibbs posted himself in Frontline’s Facebook group," Milan said.

During Hernandez-Mats tenure in UTD leadership:

May 2013: 4th student accuses Nibbs of sexual harassment; not substantiated

December 2013: Nibbs raped an 8th-grade student. She came forward to the police years later, becoming the eighth accuser.

April 2015: 5th student accuses Nibbs of sexual harassment. This student later told Miami-Dade Public Schools Police Detective Bernise Charley that she was forcibly raped in Nibbs’ classroom, which led to one of the two criminal charges on which Nibbs ultimately pled guilty.

December 2015: A teacher accused Nibbs of sexually assaulting her. Octavia Johnson said in an interview with investigators that Nibbs “should not be working in this capacity, especially around children,” wrote an investigator at the Office of Civil Rights Compliance.

January 2016: Nibbs goes to Tallahassee with Hernandez-Mats and other UTD leaders to lobby as part of the Frontline Caucus

January 2016: Hernandez-Mats & Nibbs in Tallahassee together

February 11, 2016: Nibbs is pictured with other Frontline/UTD leaders; Hernandez-Mats thanks them for their support. Hernandez-Mats was running for president at the time.

February 15, 2016: Nibbs posted on Facebook supporting Frontline and Hernandez-Mats’ candidacy in the UTD election. Nibbs was a delegate candidate for Frontline.

February 16, 2016: Nibbs posts this photo in support of Hernandez-Mats

February 2016: Nibbs poses with other Frontline leaders holding flyers with Hernandez-Mats’ face on them supporting her campaign for UTD president

February 17, 2016: Hernandez-Mats was elected president of UTD. Hernandez-Mats pictured with Frontline Caucus/Nibbs

February 2016-2019: Hernandez-Mats’ first term as president of UTD

May 2016: A sixth student accuses Nibbs of sexual harassment. She tells investigators that she had seen nude photos of Nibbs on her friend’s phone (another underage student, 7th accuser). That friend later told police officers that Nibbs had raped her five times in her eighth-grade year, between October 2015 and May 2016.

June 2016: A civilian investigator ruled that Nibbs acted inappropriately toward a student. Nibbs was finally reassigned away from students, but he was not fired or arrested. Hernandez-Mats was president at this time.

November 16, 2017: While Hernandez-Mats was president, and Nibbs had been reassigned away from students after the civilian investigator found more than a year before that he had acted inappropriately toward a student, their UTD colleague posted this photo of Nibbs & Hernandez-Mats on Facebook.

As president of UTD:

Having served in union leadership and the same caucus as Nibbs for almost five years at that point, with four separate investigations and one ruling against Nibbs, Hernandez-Mats would undoubtedly have known about the claims against her political ally.

November 30, 2017: Nibbs was arrested by Miami-Dade Police and booked into jail on two counts of raping a child (two weeks after he posted a photo with Hernandez-Mats)

December 2018: A ninth accuser came forward to police and said Nibbs raped her and took nude photos of her in sixth grade.

February 2019: Hernandez-Mats was re-elected president of UTD. A robocall boosted her candidacy and her Frontline Caucus from Andrew Gillum.

March 24, 2019: Colleen Wright’s story in the Miami Herald was published.

After the Herald story was published that same day, UTD finally released a public statement from Hernandez-Mats condemning Nibbs and blaming the district, not her union, for what happened.

Timeline documents below: