New Mexico State Rep. Williams Stapleton Under Criminal Investigation | Legislature | New Mexico Legislative Session

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Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a powerful member of the state House of Representatives leadership, is under criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office on allegations of racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal bribes and violations of the New Mexico Government Conduct Act.

Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office conducted searches at Williams Stapleton’s business office in Albuquerque on Tuesday evening and at her home on Wednesday morning, and had been investigating irregularities in her work as an Albuquerque Public Schools administrator. since the spring – apparently in response to a letter from District Superintendent Scott Senior.

In the letter, Elder highlighted suspicions of potential violations of the Government Conduct Act.

Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, is the House Majority Leader, second only to Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, in the Democratic caucus. She led the Careers and Technical Education Department at Albuquerque Public Schools for years and has served in the Legislative Assembly since 1995.

Efforts to reach Williams Stapleton by phone at his home and legislative office on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

No charges have been filed against Williams Stapleton, who is listed as 63 in the affidavit. Albuquerque attorney Luis Robles, who represents the school district, said the district placed her on administrative leave around 7 a.m. Wednesday.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the allegations implicate Williams Stapleton’s dealings with a Washington, D.C.-based company, Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, which has provided e-learning materials to the district for years. The affidavit described an elaborate, year-long plan in which Williams Stapleton may have been involved in securing a contract with the company and approving payment invoices. The affidavit also stated that she, businesses she owns, and nonprofits she is involved with have received money from Robotics Learning.

The affidavit also noted Williams Stapleton’s position in the Legislative Assembly, questioning whether some of his legislative initiatives on web technology and programs posed a conflict of interest. This has remained an issue with members of the state’s so-called Citizens’ Legislature, where legislators do not earn salaries and vote on bills that could directly impact the industry in which they work, be it education, breeding or law.

“Sheryl Williams Stapleton is directly involved in this process,” the affidavit reads. “The facts and circumstances surrounding this investigation suggest that she (among other things) offered and obtained funding through the legislative process for the programs she leads.”

She also provided “single-source justification” to continue to procure Robotics’ services and intervened on the company’s behalf when her contract appeared to be in jeopardy, according to the affidavit.

Rennette Apodaca, who heads the district’s purchasing and accounts payable department, first questioned the irregularities in 2018 after receiving an invoice incorrectly listed as a purchase order from Robotics Learning for a teacher training product called CyberQuest. .

Apodaca’s subsequent research raised questions about the history, skill, and practices of robotics. She discovered that although the company listed a PO Box in Albuquerque, it is not registered or licensed to do business in New Mexico.

The 32-page affidavit details irregularities in forms submitted by Robotics for payment by APS, the state’s largest school district. He described the deep ties between Williams Stapleton and the company and how some of the funds the district gave to the company ultimately went to businesses it owned – and to its own bank accounts.

According to the affidavit, investigators believe that approximately 60% of the money paid to the company by the district between 2014 and 2021 “was then redirected to the direct interests of Sheryl Williams Stapleton”, including her son, David Hendrickson; his restaurant, A Taste of the Caribbean; S. Williams & Associates; and the Ujima and Charley Morrisey Foundations.

That money was $954,386.04, according to the affidavit.

Robotics CEO Joseph F. Johnson was named chairman of both foundations, while Williams Stapleton was the registered agent for both, according to the affidavit.

The district has paid Robotics more than $5.3 million since 2006, according to the document.

The company’s main source of revenue was its contracts with the district, according to the affidavit, and APS employees and investigators from the attorney general’s office noted that the procurement process was not “compliant to state law”.

In a letter posted on the APS website, Elder acknowledged the failures of APS processes.

“Our previous system did not establish adequate controls over this employee,” he wrote. “Internal processes failed to stop this fraud. For that, I apologize to you and to the public. Above all, I apologize to our students and their families. I am deeply sorry for the resulting harm. »

In May, according to the affidavit, the school district told investigators from the attorney general’s office that three checks addressed to Robotics were not deposited but were mailed to a PO box in Albuquerque. After sending a letter to the company inquiring about the uncashed checks, all three were deposited the next day.

Video surveillance at a Bank of America branch showed Williams Stapleton cashing or depositing checks totaling $90,000. Similar events were also recorded last year.

The search warrant affidavit states that efforts to reach Robotics officials were often unsuccessful, and “none of the websites imprinted on documents by Robotics were found to be in operation.”

The OpenCorporates online database of companies says robotics was disbanded in late 2020, although the affidavit says the school district continued to pay for robotics hardware through May 2021.

Legislative reaction

An outspoken and often spirited lawmaker, former teacher Williams Stapleton has long advocated for funding and programs for public school students, minorities and poor New Mexicans.

The first black woman elected to the state Legislature, she sponsored a successful measure in this year’s regular legislative session banning discriminatory practices in schools against students because of their hairstyles or head coverings .

Lawmakers from both major parties reacted with surprise to news of the investigation, although some key leadership figures did not return calls seeking comment.

“We are shocked and appalled by the deeply disturbing allegations against Rep. Stapleton,” Egolf and other members of the House Democratic leadership said in a statement released Wednesday.

“We counted her as a valued colleague and have never seen any instances of impropriety or criminal behavior in her work in the House, but New Mexicans deserve to know that their elected officials uphold the highest ethical standards and are free from corruption,” the statement said. “We will cooperate fully with the investigating authorities and will closely monitor the situation as facts are revealed regarding these allegations.”

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, called the allegations ‘troubling’, although he added: ‘I haven’t seen all the documents and I haven’t read all the the claims, but lawmakers are held – and should be held – very high quality. Any misconduct, if any, is cause for concern. »

Reached by phone, Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said, “I don’t know what to say except I’m sad.”

Neither Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, nor Senate Speaker Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, returned calls seeking comment.

A Senate spokesman said no Senate leader would comment.

In a statement, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was “deeply, deeply troubled by the reports [Wednesday] morning about a law enforcement investigation into Rep. Stapleton.

“People are innocent until proven guilty, and I know that investigators will follow the facts wherever they lead. I await more information like all New Mexicans,” she continued. “But I will say that public confidence in government is seriously undermined even by the appearance of impropriety or illegal activity, which is why public officials must always hold themselves to the highest standard of behavior possible.”

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