According to state officials, New Mexico House Majority Leader Sheryl Stapleton, a Democrat, is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office on charges of racketeering, money laundering, receiving kickbacks, and other crimes.
Representatives from the attorney general’s office searched the Democrat’s office in Albuquerque last week and her home, arrest warrants noted. They were searching for irregularities in her work at the city’s public schools since spring 2021.
Suspicions Raised Regarding Stapleton’s Connection To Public School Vendor
State investigators were attempting to determine whether her connections to Robotics Management Learning Systems, a company based in Washington state, do business with Albuquerque’s public school system. They noted that every invoice issued by the company to the public school system was for an even dollar amount, with most payments being $40,000.
Stapleton is also involved with several other vendors that regularly receive payments from Robotics Management, investigators noted. The amount of money being paid could be, if found illegal, one of the biggest kickback schemes in the history of New Mexico.
The search warrant noted that the school system paid Robotics $5.3 million from 2006 to 2021. Records from the Bank of America state that Robotics’ primary source of income is the contracts it has with APS. APS workers and state investigators note that the procurement process involving Robotics wasn’t according to New Mexico state law.
The warrant also noted that state investigators found that 60% of the funds paid to the company by APS for seven years was redirected to Williams businesses, including a local restaurant, A Taste of The Caribbean, The Charlie Morrisey Center for Creative Assistance, S. Williams and Associates, and the Ujima Foundation.
Investigators allege that she used some of the stolen money for her expenses. They accuse her of using her position to funnel more state funds into two nonprofit organizations she runs.
Charges have not been filed in this state case yet. However, the attorney general’s office said that it could assure the people of New Mexico that they will be quick and diligent in investigating the matter, as it involves public funds and schools.
The governor, Michelle Grisham, stated that she is troubled by the reports and that public confidence is damaged when there appears to be impropriety or illegal activity.
Grisham also said that the people of the state deserve elected officials who put citizens ahead of themselves.
Her attorney Ahmad Assed told the press last week that it’s too early to make any comments about the investigation.
Williams Resigns Her Position In The State Legislature
Amid these allegations called the largest kickback scheme in state politics, Stapleton resigned her seat in the state legislature late last week.
She said that she needs to devote a lot of time and energy to defend herself against the criminal allegations.
Meanwhile, the African American Performing Arts Center at Expo New Mexico may change its name because it was dedicated to Stapleton.
Representatives of the organization told the media that they always had reservations about Stapelton’s names being on the front of the building. The problem is that when a public policymaker names a building after themselves if you are still in office, you could get into a scandal. Unfortunately, that is what has happened here.
The Bill Richardson administration dedicated the building to Stapleton more than 10 years ago. In a recent Facebook post, a representative of the organization said this current criminal investigation is just a reminder of what can happen when you name a building after an active politician.
It is unknown what the new name of the building will be and who it will be dedicated to.
Williams Has Been At The Center of Controversy in the Past
Back in 2011, when Williams was the state House Democratic Whip, she was forced to apologize to Governor Susana Martinez for an outburst in the state Capitol when she said a Republican lawmaker was ‘carrying the Mexican’s water on the fourth floor.’
Stapleton was the first black woman to be elected to the state legislature. The incident happened after a legislative study committee break where she confronted a Republican who had been interviewed for a story that said Stapelton was being compensated by the public school system while she was working in legislative sessions. This was a violation of state law.
Stapleton told the media in an apology that she didn’t know that in New Mexico, it can be taken as a slur to call someone a Mexican. Many Hispanics, especially in the northern part of the state, can trace their ancestry to Spain and call themselves Spanish.
The investigation is in its early stages, and no trial date has been set. However, she could face decades in prison if she is convicted on racketeering and money laundering charges.