New details have come to light uncovered exclusively by the Piñon Post weeks following the second-highest-ranking New Mexico House Democrat, former Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton’s house being raided. She then resigned in disgrace following a federal probe into her alleged money laundering, racketeering, and kickbacks.
Not only can we now confirm Stapleton’s alleged graft happened for decades, but it involved some of the largest players in the New Mexico political field, such as New Mexico governors, cabinet officials, and even some of the high-ranking politicians who still serve today.
The disgraced former legislator registered the company “Robotics Management Learning Systems, LLC” at 1411 H Street NE, Office 804 in Washington, D.C. According to the affidavit that led to search warrants on Stapleton’s home, one of the executive officers of Robotics is Joseph Johnson. He owns National Corrections and Rehabilitation Corporation, which previously occupied the office space from 2016 to 2018.
The affidavit notes that Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. currently operates the National Corrections and Rehabilitation Corporation. Johnson is also listed as the president of Stapleton’s other organization involved in the alleged graft scheme, the Ujima Foundation.
Early Joseph Johson and Sheryl Williams Stapleton Connections
It just so happens that Joseph F. Johnson previously lived in New Mexico, attending New Mexico State University in the late 1970s when Stapleton attended the school. According to the Washington City Paper, “Johnson says his mentor was Albert Johnson, the first black mayor of Las Cruces,” and that through college, he helped “propel the mayor to his first electoral victory.” He was also active in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Stapleton, who was just Sheryl Williams at the time, served as the executive secretary to the NAACP’s Northwest Mesa branch.
The Toney Anaya Years
Following graduation, Johnson, Jr. had a short stint at the State Health Planning Agency. He became deputy director of Southwest Community Health Center in Carlsbad, and by the early 1980s, then-Gov. Toney Anaya appointed him deputy secretary of health and environment.
While in that role, Johnson got involved with two men, John Thacker and George Gregory (a fugitive also known as George Clifford Walcoff), who ran a mental health center in Carlsbad that contracted with the State.
Johnson, Thacker, and Gregory allegedly formed two businesses aiming at getting contracts with the Department of Health and Environment. While the businesses did not take off, Thacker and Gregory allegedly bought Johnson a Cadillac, and “Johnson also allegedly helped Gregory write a $10,000 state-funded feasibility study that recommended consolidating many state mental health services in Thacker’s counseling center,” the City Paper noted.
Johnson’s boss, then-New Mexico Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, caught onto what Johnson was up to and removed him from overseeing the center’s business. But “shortly thereafter, Gov. Anaya fired Mullan and named Johnson to replace him,” leading him to become secretary of Health and Environment.
Carlsbad District Attorney Tom Rutledge noted that Thacker and Gregory had been cheating the state out of thousands of dollars by padding the health center’s bills, and they later pleaded guilty to bribing him. Johnson resigned from his post the day before his confirmation hearings were slated to begin. “Johnson was later charged by the state’s attorney with 11 felony counts of bribery, fraud, conspiracy, taking illegal kickbacks, and racketeering.”
But before Johnson could be charged, “on the stand, despite his guilty plea, Gregory recanted his initial confession, and the judge eventually dismissed the charges against Johnson.” Johnson immediately got back to work as Gov. Anaya’s chief of staff.
Anaya’s administration is known as one of the most corrupt in New Mexico’s history. Three of his officials were indicted on kickback, fraud, bribery, and racketeering charges, with many officials’ guilty verdicts being reduced by Anaya while he remained in power. Some pardons include those of former aide John Ramming, former disaster relief official Pete Mondragon, and former state treasurer, Earl Hartley.
Anaya was charged in 2014 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for involvement in a fraud scheme. He was later part of scandal-ridden former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration as the New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment head.
Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition
Joseph Johnson went on to run Jesse Jackson’s 1988 unsuccessful presidential campaign, in which Albert Johnson’s son, Albert Johnson Jr., served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Then-Corporation Commissioner Eric Serna co-chaired the Jackson campaign alongside Johnson. Serna was involved in multiple corruption investigations, which forced him to resign as insurance superintendent in 2006. Johnson later worked for failed Democrat presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign in the 1988 general election.
At the 1988 DNC, Sheryl Williams served as an alternate Jesse Jackson delegate. Her political ally, Democratic National Committeeman and former Santa Fe Mayor Art Trujillo served as an unpledged delegate. Trujillo served with Joseph Johnson on the DNC credentials committee. After working for Jackson, Johnson ran the Black Panther-linked socialist group the “Rainbow Coalition.” According to NMBlack.com, Stapleton is listed as the New Mexico contact for the group. News reports show Stapleton has been active with the Rainbow Coalition as early as 1989, being quoted alongside Johnson in the Associated Press.
In 1989, Johnson said of the Rainbow Coalition, “What you’re seeing now is the Rainbow going from a group of people who were always saying fight, fight, fight to a group that understands that it is not always in our best interest to be the permanent opposition.” This quote appears to mirror Sheryl Williams Stapleton’s rise to power and her changes politically, especially during the 1992 presidential election, where she told the Baltimore Sun, “The sense and the mood has been to move to the middle, because that’s where the majority of the voters are.” She said that was fine with her “If that’s what it takes to get to the White House.” Later in her career, she would campaign as a moderate and then govern as a far-leftist in the same vein as the socialist Rainbow Coalition’s founding principles.
Johnson’s Other Shady Business Dealings
Johnson also worked for Democrat Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s presidential campaign in 1991-92, Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Edwin Edwards’ primary campaign, and “in at least half a dozen state and local races in California,” according to the Washington Post.
During the time Johnson worked at the National Rainbow Coalition, he also started working with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) private prison board and was involved in multiple shady deals through his company, the National Corrections and Rehabilitation Corp (NCRC). One such deal entailed a murky bidding process during the time of corrupt former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, an ally of Johnson. When challenged about how his company was awarded the contract despite its lack of credentials, Johnson accused the other company vying for the contract of racism.
CCA, which has recently been renamed to CoreCivic, currently runs multiple prisons in New Mexico, such as the Torrance County Detention Facility opened in 1990. Sheryl Williams Stapleton sat on the interim Corrections Oversight and Justice Committee, which oversaw these facilities. CoreCivic has made campaign donations to multiple legislators, including Stapleton. Just this year, KOB 4 reported that the current administration of Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Stapleton ally, “has shown a cautious approach to scaling back reliance on privately operated prisons when economically feasible.”
In the early 1990s through a company called “Healthcare Affiliates,” Johnson won a contract in Newport News, Virginia, to oversee a hospital. The contract was reportedly obtained under nefarious circumstances. A Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report found Johnson’s company “inappropriately spent nearly half a million dollars of the hospital’s scarce operating funds to pay for questionable contracts, board member compensation, and such things as country-club dues, travel, entertainment, and housing unrelated to the hospital’s operation,” according to the Washington City Paper. Johnson ran his companies through “The Johnson Companies,” where he lists himself as “one of the most respected political operatives in the country.”
The shady deals and contracts won by Johnson eerily mirror much of the activity alleged against former Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, such as contracts won by Robotics from the Albuquerque Public Schools for millions of dollars that went on for decades without an ounce of suspicion from state auditors, accountants, and APS personnel.
While Johnson was profiting from incarcerating mostly Black men in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas through CCA, Sheryl Williams Stapleton was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1994. The district Stapleton got elected to was and still is one of the most economically disadvantaged, which makes her alleged graft throughout her tenure that much more heinous.
Stapleton’s Tenure at the Legislature
Interestingly, Stapleton’s alleged corruption and waste of taxpayer money may have been foreshadowed. When asked in 1994 while running for office if she supported term limits for the Legislature, Williams responded, “No. Legislators should be given a reasonable amount of time to achieve their goals. History has shown that a legislator with more experience in the Legislature acquires more pork to take home for their district.”
In 1999, Stapleton sponsored the legislation to create an Office of African American Affairs (OAAA), which was signed into law by then-Gov. Gary Johnson and appears to have been used to funnel government appropriations to Stapleton’s financial interests. One such instance involves $50,000 Stapleton got in state capital outlay to buy vans for the OAAA, which were overseen by her “Charlie Morrisey Center for Creative Assistance, Inc” and Robotics. Stapleton has been involved with the “Charlie Morrisey Education Center” (CMEC) since at least 1994, when she first ran for the Legislature. Johnson serves as the president of CMEC.
The OAAA website quotes Stapleton, who said, “Only by illuminating the history of African Americans can we eradicate the myths and distortions responsible for problems in communications that still exist.”
The affidavit also notes multiple bills Stapleton passed through the Legislature and got signed into law, appearing to benefit her personally. These include H.B. 178 in 2015 amending the Public School Code to require inclusion of certain Career Technical Education courses, H.B.44 in 2019 requiring the use of federal Every Student Succeeds Act Title 2 funding for career-technical professional development, and H.B. 91 in 2019 creating the Career Technical Education pilot project. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two of these bills, while former Gov. Susanna Martinez signed one.
Years later, in 2021, the Legislature passed the “Black Education Act” bill to amend the OAAA and implement new racially charged proposals pitting Black and White New Mexicans against each other in the education system through “anti-racism, racial awareness and sensitivity training or professional development in addition to the current on-line requirement,” continuing to meet the Rainbow Coalition’s goals. It is unclear at this time if the proposal could have benefited Stapleton financially through Robotics or her other associates.
Stapleton was a close ally to high-profile Democrats while in the House of Representatives such as then-Congressman Bill Richardson, who would later serve as governor and in 2008 rededicate the African American Arts Center that opened in 2007 in Albuquerque after Stapleton. Richardson publicly backed Stapleton over other Democrats during primaries in the early 2000s. Richardson was a donor to Joseph Johnson’s Rainbow Coalition in the 1980s, helping the group buy radio ads and other expenses to help Democrat candidates. In 2009, Joseph Johnson donated $500 to his hand-picked successor, then-Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who lost the election.
Albuquerque Public Schools Involvement
At the Roundhouse, Stapleton, who worked as an administrator — not a teacher — for Albuquerque Public Schools, did the teachers unions’ bidding, especially that of Albuquerque Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Ellen Bernstein, one of the people who signed off on Stapleton’s 2013 Ph.D. dissertation regarding the Three-Tiered Licensure System. Stapleton is currently listed as a director for AFT. Coincidentally, Stapleton thanked Joseph Johnson in her dissertation for his “invaluable input,” calling him a“friend.”
APS has long been in the crossfire for corruption, with millions of appropriated funds going missing at the hands of administrators, from three employees getting indicted on fraud counts for thousands of dollars in 1986 — two years following Stapleton beginning at the District in 1984 — to former vocational school founder Danny Moon taking off with over $1 million from the schools in the early 2000s.
A 2016 report found that former APS Board member Analee Maestas embezzled almost $700,000 from La Promesa Early Learning Center to her personal bank account. According to the Albuquerque Journal, “Maestas has blamed the nearly $700,000 in questionable transactions at La Promesa on her daughter’s substance abuse problems.”
In 2011, Larry Barker of KRQE 13 News found that Stapleton “pocketed more than $100,000 — money she didn’t earn — from APS over the years while serving in the legislature. But instead of being punished or forced to pay it back, Superintendent Winston Brooks changed the rules for Stapleton.” Brooks dismissed Stapleton’s $167,000 worth of unauthorized leave from APS, saying, “What I did was I changed the employee handbook so that anyone can be a legislator in Santa Fe and be paid for it.”
In a 2014 Albuquerque Journal op-ed, Bernstein advocated for paying legislators who worked for the schools, writing that credit has yet to be given to Stapleton “for banking extra hours, working weekends and nights and using vacations (sic) days to serve the public. Why the double-standard?” She added, “It is my hope that the APS Board of Education does the right thing by supporting all their employees to serve in the Legislature. Otherwise, we leave the crucial work of creating the policies that govern our state in the hands of those who are wealthy or retired.” No other state public employee, other than educators, in New Mexico is allowed to serve in a partisan public office.
In 2018, former Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission executive director Kimberly Greene and former employees Cheryl Yazzie and Charles Countee pleaded guilty to fraud and embezzlement charges by creating phony state vouchers to heist over $67,700 from the Commission. According to Greene, she claims she “was coerced by [then]-House Minority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, to enter into a no-bid contract with eRead, an outside contractor for ACT/SAT program,” according to the New Mexico Political Report. However, Stapleton claimed, “I was never involved, never spoke to anybody about a no-bid contract.”
Stapleton has lent her political influence to support allies through her racially charged groups, such as “New Mexico Black PAC,” of which she reportedly served as president. The group gave to Democrat politicians, including $2,500 to Michelle Lujan Grisham in her successful 2018 run for governor, $1,000 to former Attorney General Gary King’s 2014 failed run for governor, $500 to former Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s successful run for secretary of state, and former Commissioner of Public Lands Ray Powell $500 in his failed run for reelection. Many of these same candidates, including Oliver, also received checks from Stapleton’s re-election campaign committee.
Stapleton also moved thousands of dollars from her re-election campaign account to the Sheryl Williams Stapleton African American Performing Arts Center and the Charlie Morrisey Scholarship Fund, both of which could have been used to launder money from her political donors to line her own pockets.
Now, as Sheryl Williams Stapleton is feeling the wrath from federal investigators regarding her use of shady out-of-state shell companies, her position in the Legislature to allegedly funnel money from APS, and the years of scandal that have plagued her tenure in the Roundhouse, Stapleton may very well go down as the most corrupt politician in recent New Mexico history. Time will tell what other high-profile former colleagues, politicians, and political players may be implicated alongside her in this years-long alleged graft scheme that has just now been revealed.
Perhaps the greatest consequence of all is how the taxpayers of New Mexico cannot trust their long-elected public officials after such an incident. Especially now that it appears this graft has been occurring for at least the last 27 years, it came at the expense of the most vulnerable New Mexicans, including children and the Black community.