Ex-Detroit principal to plead guilty in kickback scheme

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A onetime Detroit high school principal charged in a kickback scheme is scheduled to plead guilty next month in federal court.

Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp, former principal of Mumford and Denby high schools, faces multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering as part of a scheme in which she allegedly stole school funds to enrich herself.

A federal grand jury in Detroit indicted Snapp last month. The indictment alleges that, from 2012 to 2014, Snapp conspired to commit bribery and money laundering, committed federal tax evasion and failed to file an income tax return.

Snapp, 40, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Her attorney, William Mitchell III, was not immediately available for comment on the expected plea to be entered on Feb. 23 before U.S. District Judge David Lawson.

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 in fall 2014 after FBI agents searched her home.

Snapp’s co-defendants, Glynis Thornton and Paulette Horton, also are scheduled to enter pleas next month.

Thornton, whose company, Making a Difference Everyday (“M.A.D.E.”), provided after-school tutoring services at Mumford and Denby, and Paulette Horton, who was an independent contractor working for M.A.D.E., also were charged in the indictment.

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

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

The indictment alleges that Snapp, hired by the Education Achievement Authority in 2012, received 90 percent of the amount of the checks, which totaled more than $58,000 in cash kickbacks.

The tax evasion charge alleges Snapp failed to report $26,233 in income during tax year 2012. Horton is charged with failing to file a 2011 individual tax returns 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. 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 Snapp and her associates took resources the state of Michigan allocated to educate children and diverte 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.

Mumford and Denby are part of the state-operated EAA school district, Gov. Rick Snyder created in 2011to turn around Detroit’s lowest-performing public schools.

The district 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.