Longtime New Mexico Lawmaker Focus Of Criminal Investigation - By Felicia Fonseca And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press
Authorities are investigating longtime New Mexico legislator Sheryl Williams Stapleton's possibly illegal connections to a company that received more than $5 million in contracts to do business with the school district where she works and whether she got financial kickbacks.
Authorities executed search warrants at the Albuquerque Public Schools offices and Stapleton's home this week as part of a criminal investigation into alleged racketeering, money laundering, illegal kickbacks and possible violations of a law governing the conduct of state lawmakers.
No charges have been filed against Stapleton, the No. 2 Democrat in the state House and a member of the chamber's education committees. Stapleton, a former teacher, began serving in the Legislature in 1995.
She also oversees career technical education for Albuquerque Public Schools, the largest school district in the state and the top employer in Albuquerque. The district serves about 20% of public school students in New Mexico.
A call to Stapleton's home went unanswered Wednesday, and she did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press. Her legislative office said it had no information.
Stapleton is on standard administrative leave from her position at the school district amid the investigation, Superintendent Scott Elder wrote in an email to district employees Wednesday. In the meantime, he said the district is reviewing its own practices and asked the state auditor's office to look at its procurement procedures.
"Our previous system did not establish adequate controls over this employee," he wrote. "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'm deeply sorry for the harm done as a result of this."
The investigation came at the request of Elder, who wrote to the state attorney general's office in April, saying he suspected Stapleton was violating state law because of her dealings with a company that provides computer software to the district.
Stapleton told the district that Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC. provided a unique interactive program called CyberQuest as justification for sole source contracting, according to a search warrant affidavit released Wednesday. The district said the program appeared to be a standardized online quiz that wasn't used by many students.
Investigators and school district officials questioned the existence of the company and found it curious that although its official address was in Washington, D.C., it had no physical presence and a post office box in New Mexico. Stapleton intervened when the company's contract with the school district appeared to be in jeopardy, providing documentation and acting as a go-between, according to a search warrant affidavit.
While it had a sole source contract for years, Robotics went through the formal bidding process in 2019. The district stuck with the company but for less than it had been paying in prior years. Overall, the district paid the company more than $5.4 million from 2006 until May 2021.
The search warrant affidavit showed that Stapleton had access to the post office box where checks were being sent to Robotics, and video surveillance showed her depositing checks from the school district for Robotics on multiple occasions.
A number listed for Robotics in the affidavit went unanswered Wednesday. In documents provided to the school district, Joseph F. Johnson Jr. was identified as the chief executive and president of Robotics. He also is listed as the president for two nonprofit organizations registered to Stapleton, the affidavit states.
Investigators found Stapleton's relative, David Hendrickson, was a onetime coordinator for CyberQuest.
They're also looking into Stapleton's legislative actions, and more than $950,000 in checks from Robotics that were made out to nonprofits Stapleton directs, a restaurant she owns and a business account she opened under "S. Williams and Associates." From there, some money went directly to Stapleton, investigators said.
House Democratic leaders said they were shocked by the allegations against Stapleton, whom they see as a valued colleague. Nonetheless, they said they'll investigate any allegations related to her legislative service.
"New Mexicans deserve to know that their elected officials hold the highest ethical standards and are free of corruption," a statement from House Speaker Brian Egolf, Doreen Gallegos and D. Wonda Johnson read.
The state Republican Party said the allegations must be taken seriously and, if proven true, "they are a disturbing violation of the sacred public trust."
Body Of Woman Swept Away In Albuquerque Arroyo Is Recovered - Associated Press
Crews recovered the body of an unidentified woman who was swept away by floodwaters in an arroyo in northeast Albuquerque, authorities said Wednesday.
Albuquerque Fire Rescue officials said the body was found at a washout.
They said two people — a man and a woman — were spotted in the arroyo after heavy rain hit the area Tuesday evening.
One person safely got out of the arroyo near Interstate 25 before the search was stopped by darkness and resumed Wednesday morning.
Crews had been tied to railings along the arroyo as they searched for any sign of the second missing person coming through the raging water.
Officials said they were looking for a woman reportedly wearing a green jumpsuit with a black backpack.
The backpack was later found, but not the woman.
Last week, three men died after being swept away in arroyos following a flash flood. Their bodies were later recovered.
Bob Odenkirk Condition Stable After 'Heart Related Incident' - By Andrew Dalton AP Entertainment Writer
"Better Call Saul" star Bob Odenkirk had a "heart related incident" when he collapsed on the show's New Mexico set, and his condition is stable as he recovers at a hospital, his representatives said Wednesday.
"We can confirm Bob is in stable condition after experiencing a heart related incident," the statement said. "He and his family would like to express gratitude for the incredible doctors and nurses looking after him, as well as his cast, crew and producers who have stayed by his side. The Odenkirks would also like to thank everyone for the outpouring of well wishes and ask for their privacy at this time as Bob works on his recovery."
Odenkirk collapsed Tuesday on the Albuquerque set where the "Breaking Bad" spin-off is shooting its sixth and final season. Crew members called an ambulance that took the 58-year-old actor to a local hospital.
Shortly before the statement was released, Odenkirk's son Nate, the elder of his two children, tweeted, "He's going to be OK."
The sixth season of the spin-off prequel to "Breaking Bad" is set to air on AMC next year. Both shows were shot in and mostly set in Albuquerque.
"Bob is someone we have known and been lucky enough to work with for a long time," AMC said in a statement Wednesday night. "The immediate outpouring of affection and concern from fans around the world is a clear reflection of his immense talents and ability to both move and entertain people. Like everyone else, we are so grateful to know he is in stable condition and receiving excellent care. We are holding him close in our thoughts and wishing for a fast and full recovery."
Odenkirk has been nominated for four Emmys for playing the title character, a down-on-his-luck lawyer named Jimmy McGill who becomes increasingly corrupt and adopts the pseudonym Saul Goodman, the "criminal lawyer" who appeared in dozens of episodes of "Breaking Bad."
Michael McKean, Odenkirk's co-star who played his brother on the "Better Call Saul," was among many wishing Odenkirk well on social media during an anxious night and day where little news beyond his collapse and hospitalization was released.
"Sending huge love to our @mrbobodenkirk," McKean tweeted. "You got this, brother."
Odenkirk's "Breaking Bad" co-stars also showed their love and concern.
"Today I woke up to news that has made me anxious all morning," Bryan Cranston said on Instagram, along with a photo of himself with Odenkirk. "Please take a moment in your day today to think about him and send positive thoughts and prayers his way."
Cranston's co-star Aaron Paul posted an Instagram picture of Odenkirk with the caption, "I love you my friend."
Before the "Saul" role, which he also played on "Breaking Bad," Odenkirk was best known for "Mr. Show With Bob and David," the sketch comedy series he co-created with David Cross that originally aired on HBO from 1995 to 1998.
On Tuesday night, Cross tweeted, "Bob is one of the strongest people I know both physically and spiritually. He WILL get through this."
Odenkirk has won two Emmys, for his writing on "The Ben Stiller Show" and on "Saturday Night Live."
He has also appeared on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" and in the films "The Post," "Little Women" and "Nobody."
Experts: New Mexico In For Hotter, Drier Weather In 50 Years - Theresa Davis, Albuquerque Journal
Scientists say New Mexico temperatures will likely continue to climb over the next 50 years — a change with major consequences for regional water supplies and landscapes.
Nelia Dunbar, director of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, serves on the eight-member advisory panel crafting a “leap-ahead climate analysis” for the Interstate Stream Commission of what water supplies could look like in 2070.
“The question is not so much will (temperatures) increase, but by how much,” Dunbar said during a recent video update on the state’s long-term water plan.
New Mexico models show that annual average statewide temperatures could rise between 5 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 50 years. Models considered two different rising-emissions scenarios, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Experts have been warning state lawmakers and others that a warmer climate could impact nearly every aspect of New Mexico’s water and land.
Dunbar listed likely impacts, including:
Decreased aquifer recharge, more common and hotter drought periods, earlier winter runoff, greater groundwater demands and stress on plant life.
Dry vegetation and catastrophic wildfires that could affect runoff and floodplain ecosystems.
Warmer streams and rivers that could mean changing oxygen levels, which can disturb fish habitat.
State law requires that the Office of the State Engineer update a water plan every five years.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tasked the agency with creating a 50-year water plan with proposed adaptation strategies.
The advisory panel compiled climate and water data and projections into an 11-chapter report that is under review by other New Mexico and Arizona scientists.
Dunbar said the “science-based foundation” will help inform the water plan, and should be publicly available by the end of August.
The team found precipitation changes more difficult to predict than temperature, but concluded that New Mexico could see gradual declines in streamflow and snowpack as the state becomes more arid.
Temperature changes may not be uniform across the Land of Enchantment.
“The bottom line is that the northwest part of the state in the San Juan Basin area may experience the highest temperature increases over the next 50 years, whereas the Bootheel, the southwest part of the state, will experience some of the lower temperature increases,” Dunbar said.
New Mexico water planners can learn from tribes, acequia communities and municipalities that have adapted over the past 20 years of drought, said ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen.
“They’ve experienced lots of disturbance without losing their essential character or becoming something else,” Schmidt-Petersen said.
The ISC estimates the 50-year water plan will be finalized by April 2022.
Water policy proposals will include local, state and federal recommendations.
This story has been correct to show that the models considered two different rising-emissions scenarios.
Bernalillo County Reports More Than 100 New COVID Cases, Navajo Nation Reports 14 - KUNM News, Associated Press
New Mexico health officials Wednesday reported 329 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths related to the virus.
The vast majority of the new cases were in Bernalillo County, with 113. The next highest county case count was in Eddy County, which saw 34.
Three of the five deaths reported yesterday were residents of Lea County.
As of yesterday, there were 133 people hospitalized for COVID-10 in the state.
The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 14 new COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths.