The revelation that a prominent state House leader was being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office on suspicion of racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violating New Mexico’s Governmental Conduct Act is sending shockwaves across the state.

If true, it is public corruption at its most grotesque — and made worse by the fact that Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, is not just another House member. She is part of the entrenched Democratic power structure in the House of Representatives, serving as majority floor leader.

She’s also one of the most prominent African American politicians in New Mexico. She was the first Black woman elected to the Legislature.



But politics is just one part of her life. In her day job, Williams Stapleton works for Albuquerque Public Schools. She heads the district’s Career and Technical Education Department, and it is primarily in that capacity she is being investigated — although some of her legislative duties may tie into the charges.

According to the search warrant affidavit, allegations against Williams Stapleton involve her connections to Washington, D.C.-based Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC.

The company provides web-based learning materials to APS and has for years. The affidavit alleges Williams redirected money sent to the company — almost a million dollars — to her own interests, of which there were many. Records show some $950,000 in deposits from the company went to businesses and charities associated with Williams Stapleton.

These are serious, stunning allegations. Williams Stapleton has not been charged, and the process needs to play out. In other words, she’s innocent until proven guilty.

However, there is an overarching question, and one that can be answered by her colleagues: What to do about Williams Stapleton’s unpaid job in the state Legislature? At the very least, she needs to be removed from the leadership while the case against her unfolds.

It’s unrealistic to believe Williams Stapleton — the No. 2 Democrat in the House, second only to Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — could be effective as a leader as she is battling serious felony charges. Later this year, the Legislature faces a special session on redistricting based on the 2020 census. Soon after comes an intense 30-day regular session.

Even if she committed no fraud in office, it’s clear that as a legislator, Williams Stapleton was able to direct money to technology and web-based programs — which is what Robotics Management sold. That appears to be a conflict of interest, the sort all citizen legislators have when they vote on issues that directly affect their livelihoods.

Given the gravity of the charges, even leaving the leadership might not be enough. Though innocent until proven guilty is a standard of proof for court cases, the cloud over Williams Stapleton is serious enough that she should consider resigning sooner than later.

At minimum, that frees her up to defend herself and allows a scandal-free representative to be appointed.

Her fellow lawmakers are beginning the ethics process so they can look at any problems with her legislative work. That could end in a censure, reprimand or expulsion from the Legislature. We hope expulsion is unnecessary. She needs to resign.

A resignation doesn’t preclude lawmakers from examining her actions in the Legislature, but having her out of office makes the process less urgent.

What is urgent is figuring out how this occurred over the years at Albuquerque Public Schools, by far New Mexico’s biggest school district.

Safeguards that should be in place to catch questionable transactions failed, both at the district and state levels. According to the search warrant, Williams’ alleged diversion of funds had been going on for nearly a decade.

While the criminal case proceeds and the legislative ethics probe occurs, officials at APS, the Public Education Department and the State Auditor’s Office need to review their procedures so any fiddling with contracts and payments is caught immediately, not after nearly a million dollars is socked away.

Each allegation of fraud and corruption reduces the faith of citizens in their government. What a sad day for New Mexico.

(13) comments

Chris Mechels

Serves to point out that we have NO effective oversight of our government in New Mexico, and this got much worse in the 1990's. We need to re-empower the Grand Jury, and start charging Malfeasance against those who violate their position and oath of office. I tried to report a clear case of Malfeasance to our DA, and they just laughed at me; said the AG should do that. The AG of course WON'T do that, as he is also guilty of Malfeasance. The Ethics Commission can't fix this, as they carefully kept real power from their hands. The criminals (Malfeasors) are running the place, and this must be addressed, but how...

Andrew Lucero

“Investigation means Williams Stapleton can't do her job” --- When did she ever do her job? Unless her job was to steal millions from the taxpayer.

Kurt Browning

How sad and embarrassing....another black eye for NM and our banana republic politics.

Prince Michael Jauregui

The issue is neither Gender-related, nor Racial.

It is Criminal, and a resignation is necessary.

Stefanie Beninato

Maybe you live in a different country, but in the US you are innocent until proven guilty. This newspaper has just tried and quartered this representative based on subpoenas and an investigation.

Emily Koyama

The cloud of suspicion that has descended over Stapleton means her effectiveness as a leader is

gravely affected. She should step down, so that an interim replacement can do the work, until she is either re-instated (highly unlikely...have you read the affidavit?) or replaced.

Denise Jimenez

[thumbup]

mark Coble

Did former sec of state, Duran, ever do her required speaking tour? She did keep her retirement, right?

Stefanie Beninato

Duran did not do her speaking engagements and she kept her pension. I deplore the New Mexican for calling for Williams Stapleton's removal immediately. Did Duran resign when charged? Did Andrea Romero withdraw from the house of rep race when it was PROVEN that she engaged in theft of public funds (improper use of expense accounts etc)? My memory is NOT. So why this cry for Williams Stapleton to resign? Is it based on the fact that she is Black? Just asking.

Richard Reinders

Its comments like your why there is still any type of racism in this country

Emily Koyama

READ THE AFFIDAVIT BEFORE MAKING M@RONIC COMMENTS! Thank you.

Katherine Martinez

[thumbup]

John Onstad

According to the New Mexican she had a bank account in the Caribbean.

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