Federal authorities have charged at least 12 school principals in Detroit with participating in a $900,000 kickback scheme involving fake school supply orders which wasted millions of dollars while district leaders begged for more state money.
Businessman Norman Shy made $908,500 in payments to school principals in return for receiving a series of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) contracts to deliver school supplies, totaling about $2.7 million, according to court documents. The alleged scheme was quite involved, with principals submitting fake invoices to cover for Shy, who often never even delivered the promised school supplies.
The federal probe implicates Shy and 12 current and former principals and one administrator. The least-involved member is accused of receiving $4,000 in bribes, while Cara Flowers, the assistant superintendent for DPS’s special education department, is accused of taking a whopping $324,000. The alleged kickbacks included not only cash payments, but gift cards and even free home repairs.
Astonishingly, less than two months ago, one of the charged principals, Ronald Alexander, appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, where his sad story about a crumbling school building spurred DeGeneres to make a $500,000 donation, touted as her most generous gift ever.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told The Associated Press the accused principals have been cooperating with the DPS investigation, suggesting a plea bargain is likely.
The kickback scheme comes as DPS officials have been arguing they need a huge boost in funding from Michigan’s state government, even as they also demand increased autonomy (DPS is currently run by a state-appointed emergency manager). Just last week, the Michigan legislature approved $48.7 million in emergency funds to ensure DPS has enough money to pay salaries through the end of the school year.
Michigan Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, a Republican, quickly released a statement saying the corruption showed the need for continued state oversight of DPS.
“This is exactly why House Republicans were so adamant that strong fiscal oversight be a prerequisite to any additional state funding for Detroit’s corrupt and broken school administration,” Cotter’s statement said, according to The Detroit Free Press. “And it is why we will continue to insist that strong financial and academic reforms be a part of any long-term solution to decades of DPS failures.”
Tuesday’s indictments aren’t the first corruption charges to hit DPS. Just a few months ago, former principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp pleaded guilty to taking bribes while working for the Education Achievement Authority, a state agency created to help turn around DPS’s fortunes.
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