Aug 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Key New Mexico state lawmaker resigns amid fraud probe

Democratic New Mexico state lammaker Sheryl Williams Stapleton stands on the New Mexico House floor with a blue hat.

Former New Mexico state lawmaker Sheryl Williams Stapleton. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

A high-ranking New Mexico Democratic state lawmaker has resigned amid a federal investigation into possible fraud, racketeering, illegal kickbacks and money laundering.

Driving the news: Sheryl Williams Stapleton stepped down Friday as New Mexico's House majority leader, and from her seat, after state and federal authorities served subpoenas on an Albuquerque school district where Stapleton is employed.

  • Stapleton works as director of the school district's Career and Technical Education and has been placed on administrative leave along with 11 others pending the investigation.

Details: A mislabeled invoice followed by persistent inquiries raised questions about Stapleton’s relationship with a contractor and her efforts to secure money that went to the contractor and four other entities linked to her.

  • Documents say the contractor was paid more than $5 million dating back to 2006 and that more than $950,000 of that was funneled to the two businesses and two nonprofits with ties to Stapleton, per Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Mike Gallagher.
  • But investigators raised about the contractor's software meant for schools and its bank account.
  • The New Mexico Attorney General's Offices raided Stapleton's home and office last week in connection with a warrant that accused her of stealing millions of dollars from taxpayers.
  • Stapleton has not been charged with any crime.

Stapleton is the first Black woman elected to the New Mexico Legislature and was the second-highest-ranking leader in the New Mexico House.

What they're saying: "Ms. Williams Stapleton is eager to cooperate in the investigation to clear her name of any wrongdoing," Stapleton's attorney Ahmad Assed said in a statement.

  • "Ms. Williams Stapleton adamantly maintains that innocence.”

Flashback: Stapleton was forced to apologize in 2011 to then-Gov. Susana Martinez after an outburst at the Capitol in which she accused a Republican lawmaker of "carrying the Mexican's water on the fourth floor."

  • Stapleton was referring to Martinez, who is Mexican American.
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