DPS principal in $2.7M bribe scandal wants a trial

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The sole Detroit Public School official who did not cut a plea agreement in a $2.7 million bribery scandal at the district wants to take her case to trial.

Josette Buendia, principal of Bennett Elementary School since 2010, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Patti on July 5 for her arraignment on two felony counts of federal program bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Buendia was released on a $10,000 personal bond and turned over her passport. She had been the only holdout in the scandal with 13 co-defendants, including 11 other DPS principals.

After all 13 co-defendants entered into plea agreements with the government, Buendia was charged on June 28 in a superseding indictment which added the two new counts, federal program bribery, which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Buendia is accused of taking kickbacks and bribes from school supplies vendor Norman Shy. Buendia accepted $40,275 from Shy from 2001 through January 2015, according to the indictment.

Buendia’s attorney, Kimberly W. Stout, said her client intends to exercise her right to a trial by jury.

“She chose to take the route of being indicted. The others pleaded to an information and waived their right to an indictment,” Stout said.

“Her school is an exemplary school since she has been principal there. She feels that everything that she received was used for the school and the children and to better their environment,” Stout says. “That is what she intends to demonstrate.”

A Sept. 6 trial date has been set in the case.

Prosecutors allege Buendia took $3,000 from Shy on Feb. 9, 2015, in the form of a prepaid gift card and “intended to be influenced and rewarded” with a series of payments from Shy. It also states Buendia accepted $2,500 on May 5, 2015, from Shy.

FBI investigators say Shy, owner and operator of Allstate Sales, hatched the scheme by offering cash, checks and gift cards to DPS officials in exchange for billing the district for $5 million in business with his company. Shy did not deliver all the items during the scheme that ran from 2002 through January 2015.

In return for the business, Shy allegedly paid bribes and gave kickbacks totaling $908,518. The scheme deprived DPS students of more than $2.7 million in resources, officials said.

Shy, 11 former Detroit school district principals and one DPS administrator have all pleaded guilty in the case and face sentencing in September.