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Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, speaks on the House floor in 2020. Stapleton faces 28 criminal counts, including racketeering, money laundering and fraud, following an Attorney General’s Office investigation that began in July. She has resigned from the Legislature and recently lost her job with Albuquerque schools.

Former House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton — as recently as two months ago one of New Mexico’s most influential politicians — could face 79 years in prison if convicted on all 28 criminal counts handed down by a grand jury on Monday.

Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was indicted on racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges in connection with what prosecutors have called an elaborate scheme to financially gain from a deal she helped broker with a Washington, D.C.-based company through her position as the head of the Career and Technical Education department at Albuquerque Public Schools, her employer.

She recently was fired from the school district.

All but two of the charges are felonies, and four charges carry a sentence of nine years of imprisonment and fines up to $10,000. Many of the others carry a basic sentence of 18 months and fines not to exceed $5,000.

Williams Stapleton, 64, has denied any wrongdoing but resigned from her legislative seat in late July, saying she would put all her efforts into fighting the charges. Her lawyer, Ahmed Assed of Albuquerque, did not return a call seeking comment.

The grand jury indictment, initiated by a monthslong probe by the state Attorney General’s Office, lays out a series of specific criminal actions, some dating as far back as September 2015 and others as recently as June 30.

One of the counts, a second-degree felony charge of racketeering, states Williams Stapleton was “associated with a criminal enterprise.” Other charges include:

  • Five counts of money laundering that add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in diverted funds from the school district to “entities with which she [Williams Stapleton] was associated.”
  • One count of fraud, alleging Williams Stapleton tried to cheat the district, resulting in her receiving “over $20,000, [in] money that belonged to someone other than her.”
  • One charge of soliciting or receiving an illegal kickback “in cash or in kind” from Robotics Learning Management LLC, the East Coast company that provided web-based learning materials to the district, in return for arranging or recommending the purchase, lease or ordering of the company’s goods by Albuquerque Public Schools.

“The investigation focused on protecting students and the funding intended for their educational services, as public officials must act in the best interests of students; and our office looks forward to presenting this case before a jury trial,” Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote in an email Monday.

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

Subsequent searches by Apodaca raised more questions about Robotics Learning’s history, address and practices. She discovered that although the company listed a post office box in Albuquerque, it is not registered or licensed to conduct business in New Mexico.

Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office conducted searches at Williams Stapleton’s Albuquerque business office in July and had been looking into irregularities in her work at Albuquerque Public Schools after receiving a letter from district Superintendent Scott Elder, who outlined suspicions of potential violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.

Luis Robles, a lawyer representing Albuquerque Public Schools, said in a brief phone interview, “It’s unfortunate our concern became criminal. But it needed to happen. If those actions are criminal, they need to be dealt with.”

The grand jury indictment, filed Friday in the 2nd Judicial District Court, includes a notice to Williams Stapleton and Assed to appear for an arraignment at a date to be determined, where a bond will be set.

It also includes a list of conditions for Williams Stapleton to follow before that arraignment, including one prohibiting her from leaving Bernalillo County, where she lives. She must also keep her attorney informed of her whereabouts and report any changes to her home or work address to him.

Williams Stapleton was the first Black woman elected to serve in the Legislature, where she has represented Albuquerque’s District 19 since 1995.

The investigation has raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest with Williams Stapleton’s powerful position in the Legislature, where she was the No. 2 Democrat in the House after Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. She has 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.

One of the misdemeanor charges says she used her position as a legislator to “obtain personal benefits or pursue private interests,” though it does not provide specifics.

It’s unclear if anyone else will be charged in the probe. The Attorney General’s Office filed a search warrant affidavit in the case saying investigators believe about 60 percent of the money paid to the Robotics company by the Albuquerque school district between 2014 and 2021 was redirected to “Sheryl Williams Stapleton’s direct interests,” including her son, David Hendrickson; her restaurant, A Taste of the Caribbean; and a private company she ran, S. Williams Associates.

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

Attorney General’s Office spokesman Matt Baca said investigators are continuing to look into the matter, “including whether and to what extent other people may be involved.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(23) comments

Joe Brownrigg

I find the majority of these comments to be disgusting. You bellyache about the system never arresting people. Then you dismiss the justice system or call it snide names.

So far as race is concerned, Ms Stapleton is the first black woman to be elected to the state legislature and, therefore, the first black woman to be arrested for possible corruption charges. How many White, Hispanic, Mexican, or Native legislators have been charged AND CONVICTED of corruption?

There's plenty of corruption to go around. Fix it! Or stop complaining. (I HOPE you DO fix it!) I hate corruption in ANY political party, government agency or corporation. But I do not think the complaints in this string are the real concern of the writers.

Mike Johnson

Only voters can "fix it", by not electing the same usual suspects in all races and allowing incumbents to become professional politicians and thus create the corruption problems here. If you are voting for the same people every election, you are the problem.

Joe Brownrigg

Same old same old, Mike.

Are YOU a voter? Then bring about the change you harangue about. Your changing of the subject, making of Straw Man claims, and blaming the same people over and over again is petty.

Maria Bautista

Life time politicians, there are alot of them. And your right, look at the mess in Santa Fe.

paul pacheco

As soon as she is exonerated (through the typical NM political corruption process), she should run for governor; she’d make a great governor of NM, (and the dems would vote for her!) And, we, [the working-class citizens] know she has the funds for a winning campaign!

Mike Johnson

That brings up a good point, I have heard no reports yet of them "following the money" to see how much wealth she has amassed with this corruption. I sure they will find it, and it may be staggering.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Allegedly, yet another money-grubbing, corrupted, bought-and-paid-for politician.

Maybe "the Mexican on the fourth-floor" can help her?

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Andrew Lucero

I highly doubt she’s overly concerned by the state charges. With our judges and their history of handing down extremely lenient sentences (especially to politicians), she’ll get off with a slap on the wrist. 12 months and a speaking tour. She’s probably more worried about the Federal investigation. It’s the Feds that will hold her accountable. Not the state… I know I’ve said it before, but with the amount of money this lady has stashed offshore and her close ties to the Caribbean, I’m really surprised that she has not fled the country.

David Brown

Why do I think her husband is neck deep in it…..Ankle monitors for the whole family are a must cause they are gonna be gone…..wanna bet?

Brad Doubles

More of the same from New Mexico's finest. Tired of it yet dem voters? Nah...didn't think so

Chris Mechels

Why a Grand Jury indictment. The AG could have filed the charges in a Criminal Information, where the defendant has more rights. Those cops who are charged always get the Criminal Information, with more rights.

The AG, as usual, is playing this for PR, and his personal advantage, as he always does. Look for some soft settlement, after the klieg lights dim a bit. Since so many NM Legislators have "conflicts" and its not even illegal in our part time legislature, hard to prosecute, without bringing out too much dirt on the legislature.

Good old New Mexico, always a good show. The Legislature always has their hand in the till, that's a given, but when to prosecute. Tricky game for the corrupt Demos..

Peter Romero

I like the last phrase in the article."U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a federal grand jury subpoena in late July for all Albuquerque Public Schools records related to her"

Maybe just maybe something will stick.

Bill Roth

it was the feds that ended up convicting Cal Kosnoswski a few years- back. Remember him? General Contractor who screwed folks out of over 10 million dollars? State AG at the time completely dropped the ball with the states investigation, and it never saw the light of day... Thankfully the FBI stepped up, he was indicted, and found guilty. So theres hope that justice will be served. IF strings were gonna be pulled, the AG would never of even brought a case against her, so don't be too quick to judge, here...

Mike Johnson

Wow! Where there was smoke, we have an inferno......more left wing D corruption in NM, is anyone surprised?

Kirk Holmes

[thumbup]

Mark Ortiz

Out of the 28 counts, how many will she really have to face, after plea deals and charges dismissed by the judge? Aside from the AG and Judge issues, let's not forget two elephants in the room, one which the political correctness police will agree with and one they won't, her political connections and the color of her skin. I say she does no State nor Fed time. Who know what "anonymous" strings Heinrich and Lujan are pulling in the background.

Mike Johnson

Lucky the Santa Fe Co. DA is not handling this, she would get "restorative justice" settlements and thus no punishment.

Stefanie Beninato

Your ignorant remarks about restorative justice being applied in all situations is boring.

Stefanie Beninato

And did the color of any of the GOP politicos have something to do with Demesian Padilla getting five years probation while embezzling money while she was Martinez's Secy of Tax and Rev. How about Arthur Allison, Martinez's Secy of Indian Affairs, who was selling unstamped cigarettes (state did not get tax revenue) at his smoke shop near Farmington? He resigned---any other consequences for him? I believe there was at least one other GOP secretary who was also found guilty of some type of corruption and was supposed to go around giving talks and never did.....

Mark Ortiz

Point is being hispanic or native in New Mexico is a lot different than being black. Implicit bias could cause the prosecutors to lean into this one.

Mike Johnson

I am sure she will hire Ben Crump to be her defense attorney, after all this is obviously racism......

Maria Bautista

Well stated Stefanie, " there is corruption, on both sides." Politicians should have age and term limits.

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