DPS principal sentenced to 15 months for stealing $50K

Jennifer Chambers

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced the last of 12 Detroit Public School principals who pleaded guilty to stealing money from the district in a kickback scheme to 15 months in prison, saying the cases have been among the most puzzling of her judicial career.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts imposed the sentence on Beverly Campbell, former principal at Greenfield Union Elementary/Middle School, who pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 in bribes in a $2.7 million scheme with a DPS school vendor.

In the last six weeks, Roberts has sentenced a total of 12 DPS principals to prison. None had criminal histories, most had earned master’s degrees and nearly all received tremendous support from the community, despite breaking the law.

“These have been difficult sentences to impose. All have dedicated themselves to education, are outstanding citizens and had numerous letters of recommendation. People supported you even though you engaged in this behavior,” Roberts said from the bench.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to impose these sentences.”

Campbell, 67, cried at sentencing and asked Roberts for one year and a day in prison, saying “a lifetime of regret will surpass whatever punishment I deserve.”

Campbell cooperated with the government’s investigation of DPS. She pleaded guilty April 28 to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

She brought a $10,000 check payable to DPS to sentencing as part of restitution in the case, said her attorney, Nancy McGunn.

Campbell began her career at DPS in 1986 as a teacher and retired in 2015. More than 12 character letters written to the court on Campbell’s behalf detail her passion for education and tireless work over four decades.

Roberts also sentenced ex-vendor Norman Shy to five years in prison. Federal prosecutors say Shy hatched the scheme, which ran from 2002 through January 2015, by billing DPS for $5 million in school supplies but delivering less while keeping the leftover money.

In return, Shy paid bribes and gave kickbacks to 13 former DPS principals and one assistant superintendent in the form of cash and gift cards totaling $908,518.

J. Michael Buckley, an assistant U.S. attorney, told Roberts that Campbell met Shy in parking lots to accept her “gratuity.” He said she was professional and courteous during her talks with the government in the case.

“She has taken responsibility for this matter. Of all the defendants in this case, she has owned it,” Buckley said.

The last principal charged in the case, Josette Buendia, former DPS principal at Bennett Elementary, refused a plea deal with prosecutors and asked for her case to be taken to trial on Dec. 5.

Buendia was indicted by a grand jury in Detroit in two felony counts of federal program bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.