A former Detroit Public School principal wept in court Tuesday as she was arraigned by a friend on a bribery charge for her alleged participation in a nearby $1 million kickback scheme.
Detroiter Germla Johnson, 56, wiped away tears during her hearing before Magistrate Elizabeth Stafford, with whom she served on the board of an unnamed organization about ten years ago.
“I’d like to place on the record that Ms. Johnson is an old friend of mine,” Stafford said following a brief sidebar preceding Johnson’s hearing. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution both said they had no objections to Stafford presiding over the arraignment.
An emotional Johnson, former principal at Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School, declined to comment outside the courtroom after the hearing.
“It’s a sad day,” said her attorney, Randall Upshaw.
Johnson’s arraignment followed hearings for three co-defendants in the alleged scheme. Also in court Tuesday were: Clara Smith, 67, of Southfield, principal at Thirkell Elementary; Tanya Bowman, 48, of Novi, former principal of Osborn Collegiate Academy; and Ronald Alexander, 60, of Detroit, principal of Spain Elementary.
Alexander made headlines in February when he accepted a $500,000 donation from the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” for technology updates, campus renovations and additional staff funding.
All four defendants were released on $10,000 unsecured bonds after not guilty pleas were entered for them by Stafford. They stood mute to the charges.
Smith and Johnson were ordered to surrender their passports and restrict their travel to the continental United States. Smith also was ordered to comply with drug testing if ordered by the court, while Johnson was told to surrender her concealed pistol license.
The arraignments Tuesday came a day after another defendant, Clara Flowers, 61, said through her attorney that she regrets her role in the alleged scheme.
At her arraignment Monday, Flowers’ attorney said the woman “profoundly regrets calling into this kickback scheme” and will pay back the money she pocketed. Flowers has been accused of taking $324,785 in kickbacks from Norman Shy, who owned school supplier vendor Allstate Sales.
As part of a plea deal with federal investigators, Flowers retired April 1 from her post as an assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services, according to her attorney, Frank Eaman. She previously was principal of Henderson Academy.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have said more plea deals may be coming.
Under the alleged scheme, which started in 2002 and ran through January 2015, current and former principals allegedly took $908,518 in kickbacks from Shy.
Prosecutors allege Shy, 74, of Franklin devised the scheme and that Flowers, of Southfield had the duty of selecting vendors and ordering school supplies. Authorities say she conspired with Shy to submit fraudulent invoices for payment to Shy for goods that were never delivered.
Shy and his company received about $5 million in payments from DPS; of that, $2.7 million were fraudulent, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade has said.
Also charged in the case:
■Tia’ Von Moore-Patton, 46, of Farmington Hills, principal of Jerry White Center High School.
■Ronnie Sims, 55, of Albion, former principal at Fleming Elementary and Brenda Scott Middle School.
■Willye Pearsall, 65, of Warren, former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.
■Nina Graves-Hicks, 52, of Detroit, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High
■James Hearn, 50, of West Bloomfield Township, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy
■Stanley Johnson, 62, of Southfield, principal of Hutchinson Elementary.
■Josette Buendia, 50, of Garden City, principal of Bennett Elementary.
■Beverly Campbell, 66, of Southfield, former principal at Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School.
Each of the 14 defendants faces up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on charges of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.
Shy and Flowers also face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $100,000 on tax evasion charges.