Surgery gets ex-DPS principal prison reprieve

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit – A former Detroit principal convicted in a widespread corruption scandal learned Monday she will wait a little longer for her just deserts at Camp Cupcake.

Josette Buendia, 52, of Garden City was supposed to report Monday to the federal prison in Alderson, West Virginia, but received a 45-day reprieve because she needs to undergo shoulder surgery.

The prison is known as “Camp Cupcake” because of its low security, mountainous setting and perks, including microwave ovens, curling irons and cosmetology areas where inmate-to-inmate pedicures and manicures are allowed. Former Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers and TV personality Martha Stewart served time at the prison.

The order by U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh comes four days after a federal appeals court panel ordered Buendia to report to prison Monday after rejecting her request to remain free on bond while appealing her conviction and two-year prison sentence for pocketing more than $40,000 in bribes and kickbacks from a former Detroit Public Schools vendor.

The judge Monday ordered Buendia to surrender Oct. 26.

Buendia’s lawyers filed an 11th-hour request Sunday for her to delay reporting to prison so she could undergo surgery. The need for surgery arose recently after Buendia experienced pain, according to a federal court filing.

Federal prosecutors objected to Buendia’s request.

Buendia was convicted by a federal jury in December of federal program bribery in a $2.7 million kickback scheme in connection with vendor Norman Shy and 12 other district officials.

Two months ago, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office seized part of Buendia’s pension, which was slashed by $866.20 per month, or $10,304.40 per year.

The money secured by the AG’s office will go back to the State Public School Employee Pension Fund for state-paid pension contributions.

Buendia was principal of Bennett Elementary School.

Federal officials said 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 him. They also allege Buendia accepted $2,500 from Shy on May 5, 2015.

Buendia’s lawyer told the jury her client was a victim of DPS’ broken system and she used the money from Shy for her students and teachers.

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