Ex-DPS principal gets 15 months over kickbacks

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

An ex-Detroit Public Schools principal was given 15 months in prison after a federal judge said he deserved the reduced sentence for repaying stolen money back to the district before sentencing.

Stanley Johnson, 62, appeared before U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh Monday morning for sentencing for accepting $84,170.57 in kickbacks in a $2.7 million kickback and bribery scheme.

Johnson, former principal of Hutchinson Elementary from 2005 to 2015, pleaded guilty to taking the money from school vendor Norman Shy, who was sentenced last week to five years in prison for orchestrating the scheme involving 13 DPS officials.

“Everybody says they are sorry. ... They also say actions speak louder than words and Mr. Johnson’s action is commendable,” Steeh said from the bench Monday morning.

J. Michael Buckley, assistant U.S. Attorney, said Johnson was the first to pay restitution to the district and offered substantial assistance into the government’s investigation into Shy and DPS.

“He stole from a beleaguered school district,” Buckley said.

Prosecutors had asked Steeh to sentence Johnson between 24 and 30 months in prison because of his cooperation with the government.

Former principal Tanya Bowman brought a check to her sentencing last week that was to pay her restitution in the case.

Johnson said he wanted to apologize to his students whom he always told “jail is nothing you want to put on your resume.”

“Low and behold, look what’s happening now,” Johnson said in court on Monday.

Johnson said he spent 16 years leading the school and often faced red tape, saying he had ordered laptops for students two years ago and still had not seen them.

“I knew better. Considering the conditions of DPS, I had the right intentions and the wrong method,” Johnson said.

Steeh told Johnson he could be sentenced to more time because he is a public official in the district who committed a serious offense.

Johnson accepted the illegal cash over a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, during the same time as the public corruption trial of ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison in 2013.

“It’s a little hard to understand how a public official such as a principal could have continued this scheme over the years watching all the other public officials go down,” said Steeh, adding: “I guess they think they won’t get caught.”

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts will sentence ex-principals James Hearn, Clara Smith and Willye Pearsall.

Hearn, former principal of Marcus Garvey Academy, faces 11-14 months in prison for taking $11,500.

Smith, former principal of Thirkell Elementary, faces 37-46 months in prison for taking $194,000.

Pearsall, former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, faces 24-30 months in prison for taking $50,000.

The last DPS principal to be sentenced is Beverly Campbell, former principal at Greenfield Union Elementary/Middle School, on Oct. 5. She faces 24 to 30 months for taking $50,000.

Josette Buendia, former DPS principal at Bennett Elementary, has refused a plea deal with prosecutors and asked for her case to be taken to trial on Dec. 5.

Buendia was indicted by a grand jury in Detroit in two felony counts of federal program bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. She is accused of the following: taking $40,275 in kickbacks from Shy from May 2011 through January 2015; $3,000 in gift cards from Shy on Feb. 9, 2015; and $2,500 in cash on May 5, 2015.