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Ex-principal in DPS fraud scheme asks for no jail time

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A retired Detroit Public Schools principal who pleaded guilty to bribery is hoping to avoid jail because he says he is the sole caregiver for his 87-year-old mother.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday in the Eastern District of Michigan, Ronald Alexander’s attorney wrote that his client’s “mother truly depends on him, and a jail sentence will cause irreparable harm to him and his family.”

Alexander, a Spain Elementary principal for 20 years until he retired April 1, entered a guilty plea in June to a charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, a five-year felony.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 8.

Alexander was among 13 former and current DPS administrators charged in a $2.7 million bribery scheme that a school supply vendor masterminded that involved submitting fraudulent invoices for supplies. Twelve pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month. One principal is taking her case to trial.

Earlier this week, prosecutors asked the court to impose a prison sentence of 19 to 24 months, down from 24 to 30 months discussed in the plea agreement, according to court documents.

The lower recommendation was prompted in part by Alexander’s promise before his guilty plea “to provide truthful testimony in the future, if needed,” federal prosecutors wrote.

“In the view of the government, the defendant has provided ‘substantial assistance’ in the investigation and prosecution of other individuals,” prosecutors wrote.

Attorney William R. Ford pushed for no jail time Wednesday, writing that Alexander is remorseful, a productive member of society and a God-fearing man.

“Make no mistake, Mr. Alexander has learned an invaluable lesson from this experience and is no threat to the public,” Ford wrote.

Alexander received a $500,000 donation from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” for campus updates and staff at Spain. Sponsor Lowe’s said the school would still receive the funds, despite its principal’s bribery case.

He’s not the only one to beg for leniency. The school supply vendor, Norman Shy, has said his age, clean record and remorse point to no more than three years in prison.

Federal prosecutors aren’t buying it. They want Shy behind bars for 70-87 months when he is sentenced Sept. 6.

The 12 DPS administrators pleaded guilty and face sentencing next month. Josette Buendia, principal of Bennett Elementary School, is taking her case to trial.

Four other administrators were also offered lighter sentences after cooperating with prosecutors.

Clara Flowers, a former DPS assistant superintendent, will be sentenced Sept. 6 and faces 46-57 months in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and income tax evasion.

Clara Smith, former principal of Thirkell Elementary, will be sentenced Sept. 8 and faces 19-24 months in prison on a charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

James Hearn, former principal of Marcus Garvey Academy, will be sentenced Sept. 15 and faces 11-14 months on a charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

Beverly Campbell, former principal at Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School, will be sentenced Sept. 19 and faces 24-30 months on a charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

Also facing sentencing next month are: Nina Graves-Hicks, former principal of Davis Aerospace Tech High School; Ronnie Sims, former principal at Fleming Elementary and Brenda Scott Middle School; Gerlma Johnson, former principal at Drew Academy and Earhart Elementary-Middle School; Tia' Von Moore-Patton, principal of Jerry White Center High School; Willye Pearsall, a former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary; Tanya Bowman, a former principal at Osborn Collegiate Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology; and Stanley Johnson, 62, who retired as principal of Hutchinson Elementary.