Updated: July 28, 2021 05:42 PM
Created: July 28, 2021 04:26 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In an letter sent in April, APS Superintendent Scott Elder flagged 'suspected violations' involving Sheryl Williams Stapleton's alleged involvement in questionable payments.
Stapleton allegedly made payments to a fake software company known as "Robotics."
"The superintendent did the right thing walking into our office," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said. "There are certain dynamics within this organization that involve power, control and the level of resources that's involved in Albuquerque Public Schools."
According to Balderas, the letter launched a months-long investigation that led to searches of Stapleton's house and a search warrant served on APS headquarters. Balderas stated that they "conducted all the investigation" they could without disrupting APS.
The search warrants stated that APS paid out over $5 million to "Robotics" since 2014. Authorities claimed that more than half of it was re-directed to Stapleton's direct interests, including some money being directed to her personal bank accounts.
APS is also launching an internal investigation to review the district's spending practices.
The investigation into possible corruption will continue. It will likely examine who at the school district knew what and when they knew it.
"With the level of exposure to the district, we are absolutely not just following the money," Balderas affirmed. "We are following the rules that were involved in this complicated case and we are really investigating how it is that the district got here today. We want to gather as much evidence so the scope is fairly broad at this point."
Superintendent Scott Elder sent the following email to APS employees Wednesday:
July 28, 2021
Dear APS Colleagues,
You may have heard by now that the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is investigating an Albuquerque Public Schools employee for possibly engaging in an illegal scheme. Sheryl Williams-Stapleton, director of the APS Career and Technical Education Department, has been placed on administrative leave as customary pending the criminal investigation outcome. Please understand that I cannot discuss the details of the case because it could jeopardize the criminal investigation. What I can tell you is that the alleged scheme involved a long-time APS vendor and may have cost APS millions of dollars through a series of transactions over more than a decade.
I ask that all APS staff refrain from gossip, hearsay, or speculation about this case. Ms. Williams-Stapleton is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Concerning her status as an employee, APS will treat Ms. Williams-Stapleton fairly, honor her due process rights, and make a final decision based on the available evidence.
When I was first alerted a few months ago to irregularities in procurement procedures connected with this vendor, I immediately referred the matter to the Attorney General. We continue to cooperate with investigators.
In addition, APS is conducting its own internal review of procurement practices to strengthen oversight and detect and prevent fraud. This includes more training, more transparency, and more awareness. We all play a role in assuring that we get what we pay for and our students benefit from services purchased with public funds.
Our previous system did not establish adequate controls over this employee. The internal processes failed to stop this fraud. For this, I apologize to you and the public. Most of all, I apologize to our students and their families. I am deeply sorry for the harm done as a result of this.
We also are improving our process for requesting and receiving public records to be more transparent. As they say, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” In this particular case, we let in the sunshine and discovered some ugly evidence. We didn’t look away. We will not become complacent. Deterring procurement fraud is an ongoing effort, and we will continue to refine and improve our procedures. We have asked the Office of the State Auditor to perform an independent audit of our procurement procedures to help us continue to improve.
An ethical workplace is our topmost priority. As a public school district, we must be good stewards of our budget and earn the public trust. We are working diligently to prevent this from occurring again.
Superintendent, Albuquerque Public Schools
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