Albuquerque school district severs ties with Williams Stapleton

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Aug. 31—The state's largest school district has cut loose a former employee and state lawmaker whose dual careers have been clouded by allegations of racketeering, money laundering and receiving illegal kickbacks.

Luis Robles, an attorney for Albuquerque Public Schools, said Tuesday the district has "discharged" Sheryl Willams Stapleton, the once powerful House majority leader who served over 25 years in the state House of Representatives. She served as coordinator and director of the school district's Career and Technical Education Department.

Robles said he could not elaborate about the action because it is a personnel matter.

"She's no longer an employee of the district," he said, adding Williams Stapleton has the right to appeal the decision.

Matt Baca, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said the agency's investigation into Williams Stapleton's actions is "still highly active" and is likely to conclude soon.

Last week, the Attorney General's Office obtained a search warrant for American Escrow in Albuquerque to seize personal, business and corporate records connected to Williams Stapleton's account there.

Those records, according to an affidavit, include financial statements, loan agreements, notes or mortgages, credit and background investigations, and checks issued for loans. The document says an investigator received one digital media device containing files from the American Escrow office.

The actions against Williams Stapleton are the latest in a series of investigatory blows that brought about the influential lawmaker's resignation from the House a month ago.

Her troubles began in late July, when investigators for the Attorney General's Office searched both her home in Albuquerque and her office at the school district.

An affidavit for that search warrant includes allegations surrounding Williams Stapleton's connections to what appear to be a Washington, D.C.-based company, Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC. That company had a contract to provide web-based learning materials to Albuquerque Public Schools for years.

Williams Stapleton, through her position with the Career and Technical Education Department, became involved with the procurement process for that deal, documents state.

The search warrant affidavit alleged she initiated an elaborate and lengthy scheme involving her son and others. The affidavit stated she, as well as companies she owns and nonprofits with which she is involved, received about $953,000 from Robotics.

The affidavit also raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest with Williams Stapleton's position in the Legislature. In addition to serving as the second-ranking member of the House, Williams Stapleton 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.

Adding to her woes, the U.S. Attorney's Office issued a federal grand jury subpoena to Albuquerque Public Schools for all records related to her.

Williams Stapleton was placed on leave by the school district following the search of her house. The district placed 11 other employees on leave as well as part of its investigation.

Earlier this month, four of those employees — Harrison Middle School teachers Caia Brown, Ryan Palmer, Rebecca Campbell and Curtis Spencer — all returned to work, Robles said.

He said none of those employees is suspected of being involved with Williams Stapleton's actions.

"In the end, those people could explain that they told her 'no.' They were people who would not go along with what she did," Robles said.

Williams Stapleton, who has denied the allegations, has not been criminally charged.

In her resignation letter, she said she would "devote a significant amount of time and energy to fully defend against these allegations."

Efforts to reach Williams Stapleton's attorney, Ahmad Assed of Albuquerque, were unsuccessful. An employee of his office said Assed is out of town all week.

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