Ex-Detroit principal arraigned on multiple charges

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — A former Detroit high school principal accused of stealing school funds to enrich herself made her first appearance in federal court on Monday for her arraignment on charges including conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering.

Kenyetta Wilbourn-Snapp, former principal of Mumford and Denby high schools in the Education Achievement Authority, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit earlier this month on charges that from 2012 to 2014 she conspired to commit bribery and money laundering, committed federal tax evasion and failed to file an income tax return.

Wilbourn-Snapp, 40, stood mute to the charges, only answering “yes ma’am” to questions by U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford as to her rights to counsel and to remain silent and whether she understood the charges against her.

Stafford entered a not-guilty plea on Wilbourn-Snapp’s behalf and ordered her to surrender her passport and report to pretrial services.

Wilbourn-Snapp was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. She must get permission to travel outside Michigan, which her attorney said she might need for her son, who is applying to college.

Wilbourn-Snapp faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the charges. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge David Lawson.

She left the courtroom with her attorney, William Mitchell III, who said he had no comment on the case.

Wilbourn-Snapp was seen as a rising star, a 4-foot, 11-inch turnaround specialist at Denby High with a 2007 Maserati and a “GUCCI1” personalized license plate. She later joined Mumford and abruptly resigned last fall after FBI agents searched her home.

Also charged in the indictment are Glynis Thornton, whose company, Making a Difference Everyday (“M.A.D.E.”), provided afterschool tutoring services at Mumford and Denby; and Paulette Horton, who was an independent contractor working for M.A.D.E.

According to the grand jury indictment, unsealed Dec. 10, Wilbourn-Snapp selected M.A.D.E. as the afterschool tutoring vendor for both high schools. In exchange, Thornton paid Wilbourn-Snapp kickbacks as a reward for selecting and retaining M.A.D.E. as a vendor, investigators said.

Thornton allegedly disguised payments to Wilbourn-Snapp by having checks issued payable to Horton’s company, rather than paying Wilbourn-Snapp directly. Horton would then deposit and withdraw the money and give it to Wilbourn-Snapp, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges Wilbourn-Snapp, hired by the EAA in 2012, received 90 percent of the amount of the checks, which totaled more than $58,000 in cash kickbacks.

Wilbourn-Snapp also is charged with tax evasion for failing to report $26,233 in income during taxable year 2012. Horton is charged with failing to file individual tax returns for year 2011 for her income of $50,982.

In October, the FBI and the Justice Department subpoenaed personnel files and bank records or email account information for more than a dozen current and former EAA officials as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Wilbourn-Snapp was among those employees.

Federal agents also were interested in contracts with vendors who provided educational materials, student-to-student conflict resolution coaching and sporting goods, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

FBI Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios said the investigation showed Wilbourn-Snapp and her associates took resources allocated by the state of Michigan to educate children and diverted funds for their personal gain.

EAA chancellor Veronica Conforme has said that after months of collaborating with the FBI, the district is satisfied that those responsible are finally being held accountable.

Gov. Rick Snyder created the EAA in 2011 as a school district to turn around Detroit’s lowest performing public schools. It has been widely criticized for misspending, failing to improve academic performance among its K-12 students and declining enrollment. It operates 12 direct-run and three charter schools, all formerly in Detroit Public Schools.