New Mexico House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a Democrat, resigned Friday amid a criminal probe involving allegations that include money laundering and racketeering, according to reports.
Stapleton announced her resignation in a July 30 letter, obtained by The Paper, to the Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in which she “unequivocally” denied the allegations.
“This is a decision that weighs heavily on me, and which I have made after a tremendous amount of consideration of the best interest of the People,” she wrote, adding that she “must devote a significant amount of time and energy to fully defend against these allegations.”
While no charges have been filed against Stapleton, authorities are investigating her for possible racketeering, money laundering, kickbacks, and violations of a law governing the conduct of state lawmakers, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Stapleton’s attorney, Ahmad Assed, told the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday that it’s too early to comment on the investigation.
“We have to do our due diligence and our own investigation,” Assed said. “Rep. Stapleton will have a comment when it is appropriate. That could be soon or later in the process.”
Authorities are probing Stapleton’s possibly illegal connections to a company that received more than $5 million in contracts to do business with Albuquerque Public Schools, and whether she received financial kickbacks.
As part of that investigation, the Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday executed search warrants at Stapleton’s home and businesses, and at Albuquerque Public Schools, where Stapleton oversees career technical education, according to documents featured in The Paper’s report.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, I can assure New Mexicans that because this matter involves schools and public funds, we will be swift and diligent in concluding this investigation,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement about the investigation.
Stapleton has been put on paid administrative by the school district, The Associated Press reports.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in a statement that she is “deeply, deeply troubled by the reports this morning about a law enforcement investigation into Rep. Stapleton,” adding that “public confidence in government is seriously damaged by even the appearance of impropriety, or illegal activity, which is why public officials must always hold themselves to the highest possible standard of behavior.”
“New Mexicans expect and deserve elected officials who, regardless of party, will put the people before themselves. Anything less violates a sacred public trust and must be dealt with accordingly,” Grisham added.
In a joint statement, New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, and House Majority Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson, said they support Stapleton’s decision to resign.
“Given the weight of the allegations against Rep. Stapleton and the ongoing investigation, her resignation from the House is appropriate and in the best interest of the Legislature and the state,” they said.
Commenting on the probe, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce called it “a sad day in New Mexico politics.”
“I know Rep. Stapleton personally, and we have worked together, but there’s no excuse for what she’s apparently done,” he said in a statement Friday. “Rep. Stapleton must be held accountable, and we hope the investigation and judicial process will take the proper course in this matter.”
Officials cited by The Associated Press said that 11 additional district staff who are subjects of the investigation have also been placed on administrative leave.