New Mexico Monitors School Funds In Ex-Leader's Fraud Case

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials say they are demanding additional oversight of a narrow slice of federal funding awarded to Albuquerque Public Schools following a criminal probe into a former employee.

District officials reported the alleged fraud this summer after staff first noticed irregularities in contracts in the career and technical education department in 2018. That led to a criminal investigation regarding about $5 million in questionable contracts.

The New Mexico Public Education Department announced additional oversight on Tuesday, following the release Monday of a criminal indictment of state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, who served as the district’s technical education department coordinator.

She was fired from her job and resigned from the Legislature.

She also denied wrongdoing and said through an attorney Monday that she will fight the charges, which include 28 counts related to fraud, tax evasion and using her position to serve her own financial interests.

State officials say they will withhold around $1 million in federal funds until the district hires an ​​independent auditor, and trains staff on an improved plan to prevent waste and fraud. The district faces deadlines to meet some requirements in October.

State Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said his department “takes seriously the recent allegations” and “is committed to working cooperatively” with Albuquerque Public Schools.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.