Former state representative and friend charged for fraud scheme


Date: March 28, 2024


A former state representative and her longtime friend are facing federal charges for long-term scheme to defraud the U.S. government. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, of Albuquerque, and Joseph Johnson, of Chantilly, Virginia, are schedule to appear in federal court for an initial appearance on April 9, 2024.

The indictment alleges that from about July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2020, Stapleton used her position at Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) as director of the Perkins Project and Career and Technical Education (CTE) coordinator to direct approximately 40% of APS’s non-personnel CTE funding to Robotics Management Learning Systems (Robotics), a company owned and operated by her close personal friend, Johnson, for use of and support for the CyberQuest software in APS classrooms.

Stapleton reviewed and approved Robotics’ invoices and directed other APS employees under her supervision to approve those invoices. APS then issued checks to Robotics and mailed them to a post office box in Albuquerque. At Johnson’s request, Stapleton personally retrieved the checks from the post office box and deposited them into the Robotics bank account. In return, Johnson provided blank checks for the Robotics business checking account.

Stapleton used the blank checks to write approximately 233 checks from Robotics for her own benefit, totaling approximately $1,152,506.00, or 35% of the funds APS paid to Robotics. Specifically:

  • 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.

On March 26, 2024, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging 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.

Stapleton is additionally charged with 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,” said U.S. Attorney Uballez. “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.”

“Rooting out public corruption remains one of IRS Criminal Investigation’s highest priorities,” said Carissa Messick, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Phoenix Field Office. “Today’s indictment underscores our commitment to work in a collaborative effort with our federal partners, promoting honest and ethical governing at all levels, and prosecuting those who allegedly violated the public’s trust.”

“This former lawmaker and educator along with her friend are charged with cheating the most innocent of victims – Albuquerque school children -- as well as America’s taxpayers whose hard-earned dollars fund vital education programs,” said Adam Shanedling, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Western Regional Office. “OIG Special Agents will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of our nation’s students.  America’s students, their families, and taxpayers deserve nothing less.”

“Violations of public trust by public officials, a position of trusted authority, is a true cancer to society. Our citizens have the right to expect that public officials conduct themselves in a fair, honest, and impartial manner. Standing in defiance of public corruption is a fundamental priority for the FBI," said FBI-Albuquerque Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda. "There is no level of acceptable corruption. We ask anyone with information regarding such matters to contact their nearest FBI field office or resident agency so that we can bring them to justice.”

If convicted, Stapleton and Johnson both face 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez, Carissa Messick, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Phoenix Field Office, Raul Bujanda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Albuquerque Field Office, and the U.S. Department of Education made the announcement today.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Phoenix Field Office investigated this case with assistance from the FBI Albuquerque Field Office and U.S. Department of Education - Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Peña is prosecuting the case.