Detroit — A former Detroit Public School principal faces 30 to 37 months in prison for his role in a $2.7 million fraud scheme at the district lasting from 2009 to 2015.
Stanley Johnson, 62-year-old former principal of Hutchinson Elementary, pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh to a charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. He retired from DPS effective April 16.
“Mr. (Norman) Shy approached with (the idea of) ordering goods from him,” Johnson told the judge during his plea. Shy, a former school supplies vendor, is the accused ringleader of the scheme.
“I would sign off on a package and (Shy) would submit an invoice to Detroit Public Schools,” Johnson said. “In return there was money given to me.”
Johnson said he collected “around $80,000” over the length of the conspiracy, a figure reflected in his $84,170.57 restitution order to DPS.
The packages did not contain all the goods for which Shy billed the district, according to Johnson’s testimony.
“Basically, (Shy) was shorting the school district on these goods and you were signing off, knowing this,” Steeh said. Johnson agreed.
Johnson said he had “no idea” others were involved in the conspiracy until charges were filed against himself, Shy, and 12 other former and current DPS school officials.
In all, the scheme deprived DPS students of more than $2.7 million in resources, officials have said. In return for the business, Shy allegedly paid bribes and gave kickbacks totaling $908,518.
Johnson is due back in federal court Sept. 12 for sentencing. He is unable to withdraw his guilty plea or file an appeal unless the court opts to sentence him to more than the suggested maximum of 37 months in prison, according to Steeh.
Sentencing guidelines have varied for multiple defendants in the case who recently have entered pleas, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Buckley.
“The (sentencing) guidelines are driven by the amount of dollars involved,” he said.
Buckley also expressed the government’s interest in quickly resolving the cases.
“We’re pleased that we were able to resolve this case by way of a plea agreement,” he said. “A number of these people are cooperating.”
Buckley declined to comment when asked if the cooperation was expected to lead to more individuals charged.
Wednesday’s hearing came one day after two other high-ranking DPS officials pleaded guilty to charges connected to the scheme.
Clara Flowers, former assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy, appeared before U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts to enter her guilty plea. She faces between 57 and 71 months in prison on the felony charges when she faces sentencing Sept. 6.
Tanya Bowman, a former principal at Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, also pleaded guilty on Tuesday before Roberts. She faces 18 to 24 months in prison at sentencing Sept. 8.
Both Flowers and Bowman remained on unpaid administrative leave at the district.
Another defendant, former Thirkell Elementary principal Clara Smith, entered a guilty plea last week to federal bribery conspiracy. She faces 46 and 57 months in prison at sentencing Sept. 7.
Shy, the accused ringleader of the scheme, is charged with bribery conspiracy and federal tax evasion. He has a plea hearing May 11 and faces up to five years in prison on each count.
Prosecutors have reached plea deals with 12 of the 14 defendants in U.S. District Court. The people and their plea hearing dates are:
■ Thursday: Ronald Alexander, principal of Spain Elementary; James Hearn, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy; and Nina Graves-Hicks, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High. Alexander retired from the district effective April 1.
■ May 11: Shy; Ronnie Sims, former principal at Fleming Elementary and Brenda Scott Middle School; and Gerlma Johnson, former principal at Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School. Johnson will retire from the district on May 1.
■ May 12: Tia’ Von Moore-Patton, 46, principal of Jerry White Center High School.
■ May 20: Beverly Campbell, former principal at Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School.
■ Willye Pearsall, a former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, does not have a plea hearing scheduled yet. Prosecutors had no comment on the status of her case.
At least one more official faces charges but has not yet been arraigned, according to officials.
Prosecutors expect Bennett Elementary principal Josette Buendia to turn herself in for arraignment in the near future.
Buendia is accused of conspiring with Shy from November 2011 through January 2015 to accept kickbacks and gift cards totaling $45,775.