Ex-DPS principal headed to trial Monday in bribery case

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A former Detroit Public Schools principal will go on trial Monday in federal court on charges she took bribes and kickbacks from a school supply vendor in a $2.7 million scheme at the district.

Josette Buendia snubbed a plea deal that would have cut her prison time for helping the government with its criminal case.

At 9 a.m. Monday, Buendia will appear in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge George Caram Steeh, where a jury will decide her fate on on felony bribery charges that could send her to prison for up to 10 years.

Buendia, a former principal at Bennett Elementary, was indicted in June in connection with a wide-reaching bribery scandal that collared 12 other DPS officials and school vendor Norman Shy. She faces two felony counts of federal program bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.

The veteran principal at the district is accused of taking kickbacks and bribes from Shy, who was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to repay the DPS $2.7 million.

According to the indictment, Buendia accepted $41,775 from Shy from 2001 through January 2015.

Prosecutors allege Buendia also 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.

Shy and 12 other DPS defendants took plea deals, sparing themselves public indictments by a grand jury. They received sentences between six months and five years, influenced by how much money they stole from the district in the scheme.

Several of the principals admitted to spending money on themselves for items ranging from clothes to cruises. Several others said they spent the money on DPS students and student trips.

After all 13 co-defendants entered into plea agreements with the government, Buendia was charged in June 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’s attorney, Kimberly W. Stout, said her client remains committed to getting her day in court.

“My client is not going to plea. She believes the money was always intend for the students, it was always used for the students and never for her benefit — ever,” Stout said. “The procurement process was impossible. To obtain the goods in a timely a manner was impossible.”

Buendia has declined comment in court.

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, officials said.