Ex-DPS principal fires attorney at plea hearing

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — A former Detroit Public School principal fired his attorney Wednesday during a hearing originally scheduled for a plea deal for his alleged role in a $2.7 million bribery and kickback scheme at the district.

“It is my desire to hire an attorney,” said Ronald Alexander, former principal at Spain Elementary who retired April 1.

Alexander currently is represented by court-appointed attorney Dennis Clark. The former principal said he now wants to hire his own attorney.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts requested all gathered spectators and media leave the courtroom for about five minutes Wednesday while she discussed Alexander’s motion with his attorney. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Buckley also was excused from the room during discussions.

When the public was permitted back into the courtroom, Roberts formally accepted Alexander’s request to hire a new attorney and set a May 31 status conference.

She did not elaborate in open court the reason for the switch in attorneys. Alexander and Clark declined to comment after the brief hearing.

Alexander made headlines in February for accepting a $500,000 donation from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” for technology updates, campus renovations and additional staff funding.

Officials with Lowe’s, the sponsor of the gift, have said the school will still receive the funds despite its principal’s criminal case.

Alexander’s surprise motion came after several other school district officials admitted their roles in the kickback scheme that lasted from 2009 to 2015. Alexander is charged with conspiracy to commit program bribery, which carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Thirteen former and current DPS school officials and one school vendor were charged in the case.

The vendor, Norman Shy, was accused of submitting fraudulent invoices to DPS for goods he did not deliver. Instead, he had DPS officials sign off on the invoices in exchange for bribes and gave kickbacks totaling $908,518. The scheme deprived DPS students of more than $2.7 million in resources, officials have said.

Shy pleaded guilty May 11 to charges of tax evasion and conspiracy to commit program bribery. Under terms of his plea agreement, he will be sentenced Sept. 6 to 70 to 87 months in prison and was ordered to pay $2,768,846.23 in restitution.

The U.S. Attorney’s office on Tuesday announced it may go after the defendants’ pensions to secure full restitution for DPS.


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