A U.S. District Court judge gave federal agents approval to seize about $3 million in funds tied to the case of a former state legislator accused of multiple counts of racketeering, fraud and money laundering.
The seizure order, signed Sept. 9 by U.S. District Judge Steven C. Yarbrough, came after the FBI submitted a 45-page investigative document related to the case against Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a former Albuquerque Public Schools administrator who was the House majority leader until her resignation from the Legislature.
Federal agents seized more than $1.5 million from the Bank of America account for Robotics Management Learning Systems, a Washington, D.C.-based company that long provided a digital learning program for the Albuquerque school district. Williams Stapleton is accused of using her ties to both the school district and the company to funnel money into her personal bank account or into business entities with which she is involved.
Agents also seized more than $1 million in funds from Bank of America accounts tied to those businesses and foundations linked to Williams Stapleton, plus a 2017 Volvo.
Federal agents also have taken $452,419.56 being held in the Second Judicial District Court related to state charges against the former lawmaker.
Scott Howell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, said he could not comment on the case because it is a pending investigation. But the federal action turns up the heat on the case against Williams Stapleton, once the second-ranking Democrat in the House who often advocated on behalf of public school employees and students.
The federal seizure application provides more details in a case that started in 2018 when a school administrator noted irregularities in a purchase order from Robotics for a teacher-training product called CyberQuest. An internal district investigation found Robotics Management Learning (a state indictment identifies the business as Robotics Learning Management Systems) listed a post office box in Albuquerque but was not registered or licensed to do business in New Mexico.
State and federal investigators jumped into the investigation earlier this year, and earlier this week a grand jury indictment charged Williams Stapleton with 28 criminal counts, including 26 felonies.
The federal inquiry revolves around the federal Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act funds used to pay for the Robotics contract.
The federal document includes portions of an interview with Joseph Johnson, the owner and director of Robotics, who told investigators he has known Williams Stapleton for 30 to 40 years. They attended the University of New Mexico together, he said.
Johnson later played a role in New Mexico politics, serving as secretary of what was once called the Health and Environmental Department before being charged with accepting bribes from some former business partners.
Johnson told federal agents the company was the only provider of the software program for years, which is why it received the sole-source deal with the school district. Asked by investigators if his company had any financial relationship with Williams Stapleton, Johnson said no.
“There is nothing coming to her from our company, period,” he said.
But the warrant application makes it clear checks the school district wrote to Robotics somehow made their way into Williams Stapleton’s varied business entities, including an Albuquerque restaurant she runs called Taste of the Caribbean.
Investigators found 56 Robotics checks made out to that restaurant, though Johnson said he had no financial interest in the business and had never loaned Williams Stapleton money for the restaurant. Those 56 checks added up to $313,123.48.
Some of those checks placed in the Taste of the Caribbean account appeared to have different signatures for Johnson.
Robotics checks made to Taste of the Caribbean were often deposited in the restaurant’s account the same day, or within a few days, of the Albuquerque school district issuing them, the document says. The memo lines for some of those checks list such items as expenses, supplies, equipment, lease payments and fees for taxes, licenses and registration.
Investigators found a similar pattern in regard to Williams Stapleton’s use of district checks to Robotics with other entities she founded, including 60 checks totaling $86,772.20 funneled into S. Williams and Associates, described as a consulting company.
As with the Taste of the Caribbean account, some of the checks for S. Williams and Associates also showed signs of different signatures.
There were also 96 bank deposits totaling $417,660.86 funneled into the Ujima Foundation/Charlie Morrisey, which lists Williams Stapleton as its registered agent.
Johnson told investigators he had made about $10,000 in donations to that foundation but was unaware more than another $400,000 was moved into it. But Johnson is listed as president of the foundation and a signer on the bank account Willams Stapleton set up for it, according to federal documents.
Johnson also told authorities he sometimes asked Williams Stapleton, as a friend, to pick up the school district checks for Robotics at that Albuquerque post office, but said he had no knowledge of her using those funds for her personal gain.
When asked by a federal agent who handles his bookkeeping records, Johnson replied, “I do my own.”
Williams Stapleton, who resigned from her legislative seat in late July, had represented Albuquerque’s District 19 since 1995. The state investigation has raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest with Williams Stapleton’s powerful position in the Legislature. She had been a member of the House Education Committee since at least 2011 and an interim member of the Legislative Education Study Committee since at least 2005.
The Albuquerque school district fired Williams Stapleton in August. Though the grand jury indictment did not include an order for her arrest, it did require her to appear at an arraignment to set a bond. There has not yet been a date set for that arraignment.
Her attorney, Ahmad Assed, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.