Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday said House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton should resign if she is indicted or arrested as part of a criminal investigation into possible kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.
In a wide-ranging, 75-minute news conference at the Capitol, Lujan Grisham said she was “horrified” to learn of the allegations against Stapleton. Both are Democrats from Albuquerque.
“These allegations are significant and incredibly serious,” Lujan Grisham said. “If and when there is an indictment or arrest, I hope the representative does the right thing here and resigns.”
No charges have been filed.
In a written statement, Stapleton attorney Ahmad Assed said his client “continues to weigh all options, placing the interest of her constituents and the citizens of the state of New Mexico at the forefront of all considerations.”
He added: “She immensely appreciates the outpouring of support from the community, and will continue to apprise them of all her heavily-weighted decisions forthcoming.”
Also on Thursday, Albuquerque Public Schools announced it had placed 12 employees – including Stapleton – on paid administrative leave in connection with the investigation. The group includes administrators, teachers, school and clerical staff.
News of the investigation broke this week when investigators with the Attorney General’s Office served search warrants on Stapleton’s home and Albuquerque Public Schools as part of an investigation into her financial relationship with a district vendor.
Staff at the Legislature also received a search warrant.
A search warrant affidavit says the Attorney General’s Office is conducting a “criminal investigation of racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickback, and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.”
The investigation was launched at the request of APS Superintendent Scott Elder, who sent Attorney General Hector Balderas a letter in April outlining concerns the district’s procurement division had with a district vendor and its close relationship with Stapleton.
Stapleton is coordinator and director of APS’ Career and Technical Education. A search warrant affidavit says the vendor, Robotics Managing Learning Systems, paid more than $950,000 to four charities and businesses Stapleton either owns or had close ties to.
An APS spokeswoman said more employees may still be placed on leave, but cautioned that the action does not imply wrongdoing.
“It is a necessary step to protect the integrity of the probe and allow investigators to do their job,” district spokeswoman Monica Armenta said in a written statement. “All employees are presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.”
Stapleton’s colleagues in the House this week began an ethics investigation that could result in a reprimand, censure or expulsion from the legislative body.
House Democrats also scheduled a private caucus meeting Saturday to discuss whether Stapleton should continue as majority leader and, if not, who should replace her.
Besides House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, the Democratic leadership team in the chamber includes Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces and caucus Chairwoman Doreen Wonda Johnson of Church Rock.
In a joint statement this week, House Republican leaders said “any acts of impropriety or criminal behavior should be met with swift and decisive action.”
News of the Stapleton investigation this week shocked her colleagues in the Legislature.
A search warrant affidavit prepared by the Attorney General’s Office and made public Wednesday outlines an investigation into “the alleged nefarious receipt of millions of dollars of public funds over a decade-long period by individuals, including at least one high-ranking elected official.”
As majority floor leader, Stapleton is the second-highest ranking member of the House and plays a key role in strategy and management of the flow of work taken up by the House.
Lawmakers are between formal sessions but expected to return to the Roundhouse late this year for a special session on redistricting. A regular 30-day session is scheduled in January.