Plea for ex-Detroit principal canceled

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A hearing for a plea agreement for former Detroit high school principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp has been rescheduled for Thursday.

Snapp, the onetime principal of Mumford and Denby high schools, was to enter into a plea deal Monday morning with the U.S. Attorney’s Office before U.S. District Judge David Lawson in Detroit for charges she faces as part of a kickback scheme at the Education Achievement Authority.

That hearing was canceled early Monday morning.

Snapp is charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering and federal tax evasion as part of a scheme in which she allegedly stole school funds to enrich herself.

The 40-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison on the money laundering charges.

In December, a federal grand jury in Detroit indicted Snapp and former EAA contractors Glynis Thornton and Paulette Horton, several weeks after the FBI subpoenaed personnel files and bank records or email account information for more than a dozen current and former EAA officials.

Thornton and Horton are also charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering. Thornton is expected to enter her own plea deal on Thursday. Horton’s plea hearing is Feb. 25.

Snapp, a turnaround specialist at Denby and later at Mumford, abruptly resigned in fall 2014 after FBI agents searched her home.

Thornton’s company, Making a Difference Everyday, provided after-school tutoring services at Mumford and Denby. Horton was an independent contractor working for MADE.

According to the grand jury indictment, from 2012 to 2014, Snapp selected MADE as the after-school 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 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.

In October, the FBI and the Justice Department subpoenaed personnel files and bank records as well as email account information for more than a dozen current and former EAA officials as part of a wide-ranging 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.

Asked whether the investigation into the EAA continues beyond the current case, FBI spokeswoman Jill Washburn said: “It’s an ongoing case for us, and we are unable to comment at this time.”

EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme declined to be interviewed for this story. Her spokesman, Robert Guttersohn, said the EAA is satisfied that those responsible for stealing money meant for its students are being held responsible. He also said the district commends the EAA employees who discovered and turned over the questionable contracts to authorities.

“The wrongdoing represents the old EAA. The organization has moved on and progressed in its mission of turning the city's lowest performing schools into the highest performing schools. Not only have we set in place stricter financial controls, but we are also seeing our academic initiatives truly make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said.

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.