Attorney: Ex-DPS asst. superintendent regrets scheme

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A now retired Detroit Public Schools assistant superintendent accused of accepting $324,785 in kickback money in a wide-ranging bribery scheme deeply regrets what she has done and will pay the money back, her attorney said on Monday.

Clara Flowers, 61, appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit Monday afternoon for her arraignment on bribery, conspiracy and tax evasion charges that are part of an alleged, nearly $1 million bribery scheme uncovered by federal investigators at the cash-strapped district.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford released Flowers on a $10,000 unsecured bond. Flowers’ next court appearance was scheduled for Tuesday, but that hearing was canceled at the request of the court.

Flowers, a former assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy, is charged with pocketing kickbacks from school supplies vendor Norman Shy.

Prosecutors said Shy paid Flowers, who had the duty of selecting vendors and ordering school supplies, using different methods, including gift cards and writing checks to contractors who put a new roof on her home as well as gutter work.

Her attorney, Frank Eaman, said Flowers retired from the district on April 1 as part of a plea agreement after Flowers helped with the federal investigation into 12 former and current DPS principals.

“Ms. Flowers loves her students. Ms. Flowers always has and always will love Detroit Public Schools. She profoundly regrets falling into this kickback scheme.

She has accepted responsibility, and she will accept the consequences,” Eaman said.

Prosecutors say Shy, owner of Allstate Sales, which sold school supplies to DPS, paid Flowers and 12 current and former principals $908,518 in bribes and kickbacks in return for $5 million in business with the district.

Shy, 74, allegedly overbilled the district for supplies, delivering only some of the goods. The scheme deprived DPS students of more than $2.7 million in resources, officials said.

Eaman said Flowers stepped up when federal investigators confronted her about the scheme.

“The real tragedy,” Eaman said, “is how many people who cared about DPS were drawn into Shy’s scheme and have lost their careers over it.”

Shy’s hearing on May 12 before U.S. Chief District Judge Denise Page Hood was also canceled on Monday.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office have said they have been and continue to be in negotiations with defense counsels in an effort to resolve the cases.

Shy and Flowers face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $100,000 on the tax evasion charges.

Prosecutors charged all the defendants in the case in an “information,” essentially an accusation from a federal prosecutor of the crime, rather than a grand jury.

One of the seven current principals charged, Ronald Alexander, 60, of Detroit, principal of Spain Elementary, accepted a $500,000 donation from the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” in February for technology updates, campus renovations and additional staff funding.

Also charged in the case:

■Tia’ Von Moore-Patton, 46, of Farmington Hills, principal of Jerry White Center High School.

■Ronnie Sims, 55, of Albion, former principal at Fleming Elementary and Brenda Scott Middle School.

■Willye Pearsall, 65, of Warren, former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

■Nina Graves-Hicks, 52, of Detroit, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High

■James Hearn, 50, of West Bloomfield Township, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy

■Stanley Johnson, 62, of Southfield, principal of Hutchinson Elementary.

■Tanya Bowman, 48, of Novi, former principal of Osborn Collegiate Academy.

■Josette Buendia, 50, of Garden City, principal of Bennett Elementary.

■Beverly Campbell, 66, of Southfield, former principal at Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School.

■Gerlma Johnson, 56, of Detroit, former principal at Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School.

■Clara Smith, 67, Southfield, principal at Thirkell Elementary.

The defendants faces up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on charges of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.