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Former New Mexico state representative and Virginia friend charged with fraud

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(The Center Square) – A former New Mexico state representative and her longtime friend face federal charges for a long-term scheme to defraud the U.S. government.

Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a 66-year-old Democrat from Albuquerque, who represented the state’s 19th District from 1995 to 2021, and her friend Joseph Johnson, a 72-year-old from Chantilly, Virginia, will appear in federal court for an initial appearance on April 9, 2024, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico.

Between July 2013 and June 2020, Stapleton allegedly used her position at Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) as Director of the Perkins Project and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator to give about 40% of APS’s non-personnel CTE funding to Robotics Management Learning Systems (Robotics). Johnson, her close personal friend, owned the company. The school system paid to use its CyberQuest software in APS classrooms.

Stapleton signed off on these Robotics expenditures and directed APS staff to approve those invoices.

APS issued checks to Robotics, mailing them to a post office box in Albuquerque. Stapleton then retrieved the checks from the post office and deposited them into the Robotics bank account. Johnson then provided blank checks for the Robotics business checking account.

Stapleton used the blank checks from the company account to write herself 233 checks worth $1,152,506.00. That’s about 35% of what APS paid to robotics.

Here are the details of those fraudulent checks, according to the release:

Stapleton wrote about 60 checks totaling about $286,772.20 from Robotics to S. Williams & Associates, a company Stapleton owned and controlled. Stapleton wrote about 56 checks totaling about $313,123.48 from Robotics to Taste of the Caribbean, an Albuquerque restaurant that Stapleton owned and her family members operated.Stapleton wrote about 104 checks totaling about $479,960.86 from Robotics to Ujima Foundation, a nonprofit entity that Stapleton and Johnson operated and controlled together.Stapleton wrote about 11 checks totaling about $72,649.16 from Robotics to other parties providing goods and services to Stapleton, including for a remodeling of Stapleton’s house.

Last week, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging both Stapleton and Johnson with “one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, 13 counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and five counts each of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds,” according to a statement.

Stapleton also faces one count of fraud and false statements, and nine counts of money laundering.

“New Mexicans deserve public systems that serve them and public servants who are honest, effective, and worthy of our trust,” U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez said. “Fraud against the government is just a fancy way to say that someone is stealing your hard-earned tax dollars. Public corruption is a fancy way of saying that they abuse your trust to do so. When public officials steal from our pockets and from our children, we will restore your faith in our public systems through vigorous investigation and zealous prosecution.”

Stapleton and Johnson each face 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release if convicted. You can view the indictment here.

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