Schuette seeks pension cut for ex-DPS principal

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A former Detroit Public Schools principal sentenced Thursday to two years in prison for accepting bribes could see her pension cut.

A day after Josette Buendia, 51, was sentenced, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he plans to file a lawsuit seeking to block her from collecting state contributions to her school pension.

Buendia is the thirteenth former Detroit school principal convicted of taking kickbacks Schuette has targeted with similar legal action. The ex-school officials were convicted of accepting bribes from a DPS school supply vendor in a wide-reaching multi-million dollar scheme.

“These principals were entrusted as leaders to look out for the welfare of their students and teachers,” Schuette said Friday in a statement. “By stealing money, they not only broke that trust, but robbed the children of better opportunities."

On Thursday, Buendia was sentenced to two years in federal prison for accepting more than $40,000 in bribes.

The former principal of Bennett Elementary School faced up to 10 years in prison after she was convicted of two federal program bribery charges and conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. She had refused a plea deal that would have cut her prison time if she had cooperated with the federal government in the criminal case.

Federal officials said Buendia knowingly certified and submitted fraudulent invoices to DPS from November 2011 through January 2015. In exchange, One-time DPS school supplies vendor Norman Shy paid bribes and kickbacks to Buendia in the form of gift cards and cash totaling about $46,000.

Buendia of Garden City was one of 13 DPS administrators charged in the public corruption case orchestrated by Shy. The 12 other educators were convicted in the $2.7 million kickback scheme and lost their teaching licenses.

FBI investigators said Shy, the owner and operator of Allstate Sales, hatched a scheme to offer cash, checks and gift cards to DPS officials in exchange for billing the district for $5 million in business with his company, delivering less and keeping the leftover cash.

Shy also pleaded guilty in the case.

“Today’s sentencing of Principal Josette Buendia, the last in this investigation, should provide a sense of closure for the parents, students and the honest and dedicated DPS employees and underscores this community’s commitment to integrity in the operation of our schools,” said David P. Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office, in a statement.

Defense attorney Kim Stout said during closing arguments in December that Buendia used the money from Shy for her students and teachers. Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Buckley said the woman’s actions demonstrated greed, corruption and abuse of power.

A jury of eight women and four men on Dec. 9 found her guilty after a couple of hours. Buendia also was ordered to pay $45,775 in restitution.

Schuette said last month the other school officials who will not receive state contributions to their pensions include:

-- Clara Flowers, former assistant superintendent of DPS' Office of Specialized Student Services and former principal of Henderson Academy, who was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Her pension will be reduced $1,416 per month or $16,995 per year. She also has to repay the state $27,037 because of the forfeiture.

-- Beverly Campbell, former principal at Greenfield Union Elementary/Middle School, who was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Her pension will be reduced $3,439 a month or $41,276 a year. She also has to repay the state $89,294 because of the forfeiture.

-- Stanley Johnson, former principal of Hutchinson Elementary, who also was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. His pension will be reduced by $1,472 per month or $17,666 per year.

-- Ronald Alexander, former principal of Spain Elementary School, who was sentenced to a year in federal prison. His pension will be reduced by $1,067 a month or $12,806 a year. He also has to repay $38,139 because of the forfeiture.

-- Tia Von Moore-Patton, former principal of Jerry White Center High School, who was sentenced to six months in prison. Her pension will be reduced by $1,459 per month or $17,510 per year.

-- Ronnie Sims, former principal of Fleming Elementary School and Brenda Scott Middle School, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison. His pension will be reduced by $1,066 a month or $12,802 a year.

-- Clara Smith, former principal of Thirkell Elementary School, who was sentenced to two years in prison. Her pension will be reduced by $1,822 per month or $21,869 per year. She must also repay the state $33,925 because of the forfeiture.

-- Willye Pearsall, former principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her pension will be reduced by $1,326 a month or $15,909 a year. She must also repay the state $70,352 because of the forfeiture.

-- James Hearn, former principal at Marcus Garvey Academy who was sentenced to 10 months in prison, had his pension reduced $1,561 per month or $18,731 per year, because of a previously entered stipulated forfeiture order.

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier