Over a dozen current and former Detroit school principals have been charged with bribery in an elaborate, $1 million dollar kickback scheme involving school supplies from vendors that were rarely delivered. Five current principals and seven former principals were charged, along with an assistant superintendent and the owner of a school supply company.
According to USA Today on March 29, one of the current principals named in the crackdown included Ronald Alexander, the principal at Charles L. Spain Elementary-Middle School. Alexander’s school was set to receive a half-million dollar donation from TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. In February, and thus far unrelated to the kickback scheme, DeGeneres pledged $500 thousand in partnership with Lowes to repair the school’s roof, gym and broken heating system.
At the center of the accusations is 74-year-old Norman Shy, the owner of Allstate Sales school supplies. Shy reportedly paid Alexander a personal sum of $23K to sway the principal into using his company. The suit alleges Shy’s company paid out nearly $900 thousand in bribe money in order to secure contracts worth $2.7 million in sales. Shy would also submit hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fraudulent invoices for supplies.
Adds USA Today: “The announcement came nearly two months after ex-principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp, once hailed as a rising education star and turnaround specialist in city schools, pleaded guilty to bribery. Snapp admitted she pocketed a $58,050 bribe from a vendor and spent it on herself while working for the embattled Education Achievement Authority, a state-formed agency that was supposed to help Detroit’s most troubled schools.”
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade called the sweeping charges “a punch in the gut” to Detroit’s troubled school systems. “Public corruption never comes at a good time,” McQuade said. “This case is not about Detroit Public Schools… It is about these 14 individuals who breached their trust.”
Among those charged was Detroit resident Clara Flowers, 61, an assistant superintendent in the Office of Specialized Student Services – whose stated mission is to “identify students who meet the federal and state criteria as a student with a disability requiring special education and to render all possible support.”
Flowers received almost $325K from Shy to use his company as a vendor, prosecutors say. She received payment in the form of cash, gift cards – even a new roof that was put on her personal residence and paid directly to the contractors by Shy.
Another one of the accused – Stanley Johnson, 62, the former principal of Hutchinson Elementary-Middle School – retained a lawyer, who issued a statement to the press. Johnson is accused of pocketing over $84K in kickback money.
“Let’s not rush to judgment. These are merely allegations,” commented lawyer Doraid Elder. “I don’t want people to forget that he’s put over two decades of his heart and soul into giving kids the best education possible.”
The five current principals who were charged – Josette Buendia, 50, principal at Bennett Elementary School; James Hearn, 50, principal at Marcus Garvey Academy; Tia’ Von Moore-Patton, 46, principal of Jerry White Center High School; Clara Smith, 67, principal at Thirkell Elementary-Middle School; along with Alexander – have all been placed on administrative leave, reports Fox News. The district has also suspended business with Shy and his companies.
In addition to bribery charges, the Detroit principals and others face charges of tax evasion and conspiracy.