ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Federal investigators believe there’s sufficient evidence to criminally charge former New Mexico State Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton. That’s according to a new filing published this week in U.S. Federal Court, which in part levies new allegations against the former Albuquerque Schools administrator who is also still facing charges in New Mexico’s district court.
The Stapleton investigation has continued after first emerging in July 2021. Agents with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office searched the former House Majority Leader’s southeast Albuquerque home and other offices over allegations she misused funds tied to an Albuquerque Public School program.
Investigators allege Stapleton spent years convincing the school district to continue contracting with a company called “Robotics Management Learning Solutions,” which provided educational software services for student use. According to filings from the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, Robotics was paid more than $5 million over 13 years, and some of that money went directly to Stapleton and her personal interests.
The scope of the federal investigation addresses an even larger dollar amount, according to filing made by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigator last month. According to the document, investigators are looking at where more than $6.1 million in federal funding went.
The search warrant states that federal investigators are looking into allegations of “theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds,” “laundering of monetary instructions,” and lastly, “wire fraud and honest services fraud.” Stapleton has not been formally charged in the federal investigation.
While working at APS, Stapleton was the director of the district’s Career and Technical Education division. Federal investigators say Stapleton controlled the procurement process in executing a contract with “Robotics.” Procurement concerns were the original red flag that started the state’s investigation in 2021.
“Initially, it was a series of procurement irregularities that caught the attention of the procurement director,” said Albuquerque Public Schools Attorney Luis Robles in a 2021 interview with KRQE News 13. “What’s important to know is that there was a whistle blower within APS who spoke up about what her concerns were.”
During the state’s investigation, authorities seized 24 computers, hard drives and flash drives as evidence. According to the latest federal filing, in late 2022, investigators were given access to the seized devices.
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The devices led federal investigators, in part, to the Ujima Foundation, a non-profit established in 1996 with annual reports linked to Stapleton. According to legal filings, the foundation was established to “address educational, social, and economical and health issues facing people of color in New Mexico” “through community interaction and collaboration.”
According to the court filing, multiple listed members of the foundation’s board of directors interviewed with investigators. Three people either said they had no knowledge of the foundation or the business of the foundation. One board member said “the Foundation was a charity run by Stapleton that awarded scholarships.”
Federal investigators say the Ujima Foundation’s bank account had more than $400-thousand of federal funds deposited into it between 2013 and 2019. From March 2013 to March 2018, federal investigators say $201-thousand was withdrawn from the Foundation’s bank account through ATM or bank branch cash withdraws. Between May 2013 and March 2018, the Foundation’s bank account wrote more than $52-thousand in checks to Stapleton.
Investigators believe that money was spent on numerous expenses, including vehicle payments, various family purchases, payments to a lawyer to defend a Stapleton family member in a criminal court case, and Stapleton’s husband’s concession stand fees from the New Mexico State Fair.
In the filing, a federal investigator states “Based on my training and experience, the [Robotics] payments to [Ujima Charlie Morrisey/Ujima Foundation] were done to give the appearance of legitimate donations to the charity and the majority of the money was not being used for the purpose of the charity. It appears as if UCM/UF was a mechanism for Stapleton to conceal the true nature of the transactions and for her to profit from her CTE position and Legislative position.”
In broader look at the use of money paid to Robotics, investigators believe $1.07 was transferred from Robotics to entities linked to Stapleton. Those include four different bank accounts named after businesses and foundations including “Ujima Foundation-Charlie Morrisey,” the Ujima Foundation, S. Williams & Association, and Taste of the Caribbean.
Taste of the Caribbean (TOC) is an Albuquerque restaurant on Central near the UNM campus. Investigators say the business incorporated in November 2015. More than $313-thousand of funding from Robotics was deposited into the TOC account.
Investigators also say Stapleton’s home was remodeled in 2014, an expense they believe was paid from an account controlled by Robotics. The search warrant indicates a $42,289 payment made to a contractor in 2014 from Robotics’ account.
The search warrant also highlights a bill passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2019. Sponsored by then Representative Stapleton and Representative Dayan Hochman Vigil, House Bill 91 was signed into law in March 2019. Federal investigators describe the bill as creating a seven year career technical education pilot project called “NextGen,” a project that would be administrated by the PED.
The project is described by investigators as a way to “fund high quality [career technical education] programs and monitor their effect on student outcomes and provided additional CTE funding that was separate from the Perkins Federal funding.” After the bill was signed into law, the New Mexico Public Education eventually awarded a contract for the work, but the contract didn’t go to Robotics.
Instead, the contract went to a company in Raton that was not affiliated with Stapleton. With a single company being awarded the work, the company who won had the opportunity to work with all 97 school districts throughout the state.
Investigators say a PED employee told them an associate of Stapleton’s was upset at the PED’s choice. Investigators say the associate told the PED employee, “the intent behind the bill was for district to make the integration and curriculum determinations themselves, not for PED to do it.” That same associate of Stapleton’s mentioned Robotics as a “really good company.”
According to investigators, the PED employee felt Stapleton’s associate had “bullied” her and was “trying to intimidate her.” Eventually, investigators say “someone reported issues on how HB91 was being administered by the PED to the Governor’s office.”
Following the reported complaint about HB91, the PED eventually pulled the contract associated with the bill, while also reversing course on how it would treat the contract. Investigators say the PED decided each school district would contract with the company of their choice. The PED employee at the center of the initial plan for the “NextGen” project was also demoted, according to federal investigators.
In the search warrant, investigators say they have an email from Stapleton to Joseph Johnson (the owner of Robotics) and Randolph Williams (the chief operating officers and president of Tritech Enterprises, a company associated with Robotics.) The email contains “instructions for Williams to contact other New Mexico school districts in hopes that five or six of the schools would write the CyberQuest program into their grant program.”
CyberQuest is the name of the software program that Robotics provided to APS.
In the face of the allegations, Stapleton has continued to say that she is innocent and looks forward to clearing her name. A judge is expected to hold a scheduling conference next week for her state criminal trial, which could occur in late 2023. Again, Stapleton has not been charged in the federal court system.