Plea deals scheduled for 11 in DPS scandal

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Plea deals have been scheduled for 11 of the 14 defendants charged in a $1 million wide-ranging bribery and kickback scheme at Detroit Public Schools.

The defendants, which include a mix of current and former principals, one assistant superintendent and one school supplies vendor, all face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on charges of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

Plea hearings begin Thursday and continue through the month of May at U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Federal prosecutors allege the scheme, which started in 2002 and ran through January 2015, was hatched by vendor Norman Shy, 74, of Franklin who billed DPS for $5 million school supplies but delivered less than promised.

In return for the business, Shy allegedly paid bribes and gave kickbacks to DPS principals and one assistant superintendent in the form of cash and gift cards totaling $908,518.

The scheme deprived DPS students of more than $2.7 million in resources, officials said.

Also charged in the scheme is Clara Flowers, a former assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy.

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.

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

The FBI has been investigating DPS for the last two years after a tip from state auditors led them to an unrelated corruption case at the Education Achievement Authority, the state-created reform district that includes DPS’ lowest-performing schools.

DPS’ new emergency manager Steven Rhodes, installed by the state March 1 to run DPS, placed current DPS staffers on unpaid leave and suspended business with the vendor charged in the case.

Plea hearings are scheduled in U.S. District Court for:

■Clara Smith, principal at Thirkell Elementary, on Thursday

■Flowers on May 3

■Stanley Johnson, principal of Hutchinson Elementary, on May 4

James Hearn principal of Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit

■Ronald Alexander, principal of Spain Elementary; James Hearn, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy; Nina Graves-Hicks, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High, on May 5

■Shy; Ronnie Sims, former principal at Fleming Elementary and Brenda Scott Middle School; and Gerlma Johnson, former principal at Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School, on May 11

Hutchinson School Principal Stanley Johnson holds a python and spoke of the innovative programs at his school. Johnson, was on hand as DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Early spoke of the school-based innovation during a news conference held at the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School, FLICS, in Detroit on May 13, 2015. (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News)2015

■Tia’ Von Moore-Patton, 46, principal of Jerry White Center High School, on May 12

■Beverly Campbell, former principal at Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School, on May 20

Two defendants in the case, Tanya Bowman and Willye Pearsall, do not have plea hearings scheduled yet. Prosecutors had no comment on the status of their cases.

A third, Bennett Elementary principal Josette Buendia, has not been arraigned. Prosecutors expect Buendia to turn herself in for arraignment in the near future.

Buendia is accused of conspiring with Shy from November 2011 through January 2015 to accept kickbacks and gift cards totaling $45,775.