DPS official pleads guilty in kickback scheme

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A high-ranking official from Detroit Public Schools pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy and tax evasion charges in Detroit’s federal court Tuesday in connection with a $2.7 million scheme at the district.

Clara Flowers, former assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy, appeared in U.S. District in Detroit on Tuesday.

Clara Flowers, former assistant superintendent of DPS’ Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy, appeared before U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts to enter her plea in a criminal case in which 13 former and current DPS school officials and one school vendor were charged.

Flowers admitted she participated in a scheme with school supplies vendor Norman Shy to submit fraudulent invoices to DPS for goods that Shy did not deliver.

Flowers, 61, of Detroit, worked for the district for 38 years. Among her responsibilities as assistant superintendent was to order school supplies for children with disabilities.

Flowers took $324,785 from Shy as part of the scheme, which ran from 2009 to 2015. She explained to the judge that she placed orders and approved orders for Shy that were fraudulent.

Several times during the scheme, Flowers had Shy write checks to pay for painting and gutter work at her home. She also got him to pay for a new roof at her residence, according to the complaint.

Roberts set sentencing for Sept. 6. Flowers faces between 57 and 71 months in prison on the felony charges. Prosecutors said the amount of jail time correlates with the amount of loss to DPS in the case. Flowers is accused of taking the most money from Shy.

At part of her plea agreement, she must pay $324,785 in restitution and owes the IRS $27,488 in taxes for income she did not declare in 2009.

Tanya Bowman, a former principal at Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, also pleaded guilty on Tuesday before Roberts.

Bowman, 48, of Farmington Hills, is accused of taking $12,500 from 2011 to 2014. Bowman allegedly asked for gift cards for the school on invoices which said the cards were for school purposes, federal prosecutors said.

Tanya Bowman, a former principal at Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology walks out of the federal courthouse with her attorney on Tuesday afternoon.

Bowman’s sentencing is set for Sept. 8. She faces 18 to 24 months in prison and must pay $12,500 in restitution to DPS.

Both Flowers and Bowman remain on unpaid administrative leave at the district.

Federal prosecutors allege Flowers and 12 current and former DPS principal, conspired with Shy to submit fraudulent invoices to DPS for goods that Shy did not deliver.

According to a criminal complaint, the scheme, which started in 2002 and ran through January 2015, was hatched by Shy, 74, who billed DPS for $5 million in business with his company Allstate Sales.

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

In return for the business, Shy allegedly paid bribes and gave kickbacks totaling $908,518.

Shy is charged with bribery conspiracy and federal tax evasion. He has a plea hearing on May 11 and faces up to five years in prison on each count.

Prosecutors are asking the judge to approve a forfeiture action against Shy and want him to turn over multiple bank and investment accounts, his estate in Franklin and a condo in Bloomfield Hills.

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.

Prosecutors have reached plea deals with 12 of the 14 defendants in U.S. District Court. The people and their plea hearing dates are:

■ Stanley Johnson, principal of Hutchinson Elementary, on Wednesday. He retired from DPS effective April 16.

■ Ronald Alexander, principal of Spain Elementary; James Hearn, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy; Nina Graves-Hicks, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High, on Thursday. Alexander retired from the district effective April 1.

■ 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. Johnson will retire from the district on May 1.

■ 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

■ Willye Pearsall, a former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, does not have a plea hearing scheduled yet. Prosecutors had no comment on the status of her case.

Clara Smith, former principal at Thirkell Elementary, entered a guilty plea last week to federal bribery conspiracy.

Smith, who had a 45-year career at DPS and had been principal at the school from 2008 to earlier this month, is accused of taking $194,000 in bribes and kickbacks from Shy.

When she is sentenced on Sept. 7, she faces between 46 and 57 months in prison under the terms of her plea deal.

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.

JChambers@detroitnews.com