Robotics Management Learning Systems: A look into the ghost company funded by APS

Larry Barker

A KRQE News 13 Investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Attorney General’s investigation of Sheryl Williams Stapleton focuses on a connection between the former House Majority Leader and a business called Robotics Management Learning Systems. As Director of career and technical education at the Albuquerque Public Schools, Williams Stapleton is accused of orchestrating lucrative contracts for Robotics to provide educational software to APS students.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton Coverage / Story continues below

Even though the school district has paid Robotics $5.3 million over the last 15 years, the only one at APS who seems to know anything about the company is Sheryl Williams Stapleton. When an APS employee questioned the company’s services, Williams Stapleton reportedly asked, “Why are you guys looking into Robotics?”

In fact, Robotics is sort of a ghost.

The Robotics business claims a website, but it’s not operational. And, no one can find an Albuquerque or New Mexico business license for the firm. Robotics once had a business license in Washington, D.C., but it’s since been revoked. Robotics lists its CEO as Joseph Johnson.

Robotics directed APS to send its payment checks to an Albuquerque Post Office near the Airport. Hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed from APS to P.O. Box 9323 in Albuquerque. So who owns that Post Office box? Three years ago, an Unclaimed Property report showed a man named David Hendrickson listing Albuquerque Post Office Box 9323 as his address. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but A.G. Investigators identify Williams Stapleton’s son as David Hendrickson.

In July, Investigators observed Sheryl Williams Stapleton enter the Airport Post Office Branch alone and use a key to open Box 9323.

In May, video surveillance from Bank of America’s East Lomas branch shows Williams Stapleton negotiating checks written by APS to Robotics. Bank video in July last year captured Williams Stapleton negotiating a $33,000 deposit on behalf of Robotics. And in October, the House Majority Leader was again caught on camera negotiating Robotics checks totaling $145,000.

Investigators allege almost a million dollars ($954,386) in APS-Robotics payment checks ended up in bank accounts in which Sheryl Williams Stapleton had an interest.

And APS is not the only Williams Stapleton-Robotics connection. A 2012 KRQE News 13 legislative investigation discovered State Representative Williams Stapleton using her lawmaker clout to favor the privately held Robotics.

State legislators funnel millions of dollars into projects that focus on health, safety, quality of life, and economic development every year. It might be a new fire truck or repairs to a senior citizen’s center. Lawmakers pay for these projects through appropriations called capital outlay. You know it better as pork. In just one year, legislators poured almost $800 million dollars into 3,400 community projects. We know how much politicians spend, but the public is never told what really happens to all that money.

For example, take a close look at Capital Appropriation 07-3801. In 2007, no one in the Legislature questioned Representative Williams Stapleton when she singlehandedly used $50,000 in public funds (capital outlay) to purchase passenger vans for the African American Performing Arts Center at the State Fairgrounds.

Shortly after the vans were purchased by the State of New Mexico, the vehicle titles were mysteriously and illegally transferred to a private company… you guessed it, Robotics. It wasn’t until KRQE News 13’s 2012 investigation that state officials noticed taxpayer’s 2007 $50,000 investment had been hijacked.

“The evidence (KRQE-TV) helped us dig up indicates that in fact (the) actual title of the vans was at one point transferred to the non-profit entity,” then Department of Finance Cabinet Secretary Tom Clifford told KRQE in 2012. “That’s where there was a breach of the state’s laws in terms of the appropriate use of public property,” Clifford said. That was nine years ago. The matter was referred to the Attorney General’s Office in 2012; however, no charges were filed in the case.

And in 2011, state lawmakers authorized $73,000 in public funds to be paid to Robotics for math and science programming at the Sheryl Williams Stapleton African American Performing Arts Center. At the time, Robotics had its office at the Performing Arts Center on San Pedro NE.

Last month, after APS placed Williams Stapleton on paid leave, the veteran lawmaker resigned from the State Legislature. In a Search Warrant Affidavit, the Attorney General alleges Williams Stapleton committed racketeering, money laundering, received kickbacks, and violated the Governmental Conduct Act. Williams Stapleton denies the allegations. To date, no charges have been filed.

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