Willye Pearsall

Willye Pearsall: Detroit Public School Principal Caught In Bribery Scandal Says She Is Guilty But Not That Guilty

Willye Pearsall, the former Detroit Public School principal caught up in a bribery scandal, has changed her story three months after taking a plea deal, The Detroit Free Press is reporting.

Twenty-one days before she was formally charged, Pearsall took a plea deal and admitted that she had received around $50,000 in bribe money from school supplies vendor, Norman Shy. However, in a U.S. District Court on Wednesday, the disgraced teacher changed her story three months after the plea deal, saying that she did not receive up to $50,000 in kickbacks.

The former principal of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, who sat at the defense table with a straw hat, admitted that she was financially compensated by Shy for conniving and preparing fake invoices for school materials that were never delivered, but disputed the amount that she received for her efforts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Lee Carlson said, “This is the first we’re hearing of this,” pointing out that it was on record that Pearsall admitted to receiving $50,000 in bribe money, and the amount had already been used to prepare her sentencing. Pearsall is only one of the dozen principals charged with collecting money from school supply vendor Norman Shy, who ran a $2.7 million scheme of defrauding the system.

Pearsall, the 11th principal to plead guilty, has argued that documents will show that she took less than $50,000 from Norman Shy. Under the terms of her plea agreement, Pearsall is meant to spend 30-37 months in prison and refund the $50,000 she unlawfully took from the school system. If it can be established that she took less than that, she will get a lighter sentence.

In court, Pearsall refused to say how much she actually took from the criminal vendor, only admitting that “it was impossible” for her school to have done business for the aforementioned amount within a school year. She refused to elaborate, leaving prosecutors annoyed and puzzled. Even her attorney, Todd Perkins, would not say how much she had collected.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts accepted the former principal’s guilty plea and penciled a sentencing date for September 7. A probation department will assist in preparing a pre-sentencing report to help Roberts decide the best punishment for Pearsall. The disgraced principal said she never dealt directly with Shy, and the checks were always made out to her companies, Safety Net Enterprises and J & J Youth Services.

Shy, the man at the center of the public school scandal that has shocked America, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and bribery March 11 and faces up to seven years in prison for his crimes. He has been told to refund $2.7 million to the DPS and pay $51,667 to the IRS in back taxes. He ran his scheme for over seven years, collecting money for services never rendered. He is accused of spending close to $1 million compensating an assistant superintendent and 12 principals for partnering with him in the fraudulent scheme.

Shy will be sentenced in September and will attract the harshest sentence. So far, the stiffest penalty has been meted to former assistant superintendent Clara Flowers, who bagged six years in prison for receiving over $325,000 in kickbacks. The last defendant in the scandalous case is Josette Buendia, principal of Bennett Elementary School. She has being charged with accepting $45,775 from Shy.

One of the convicted principals, Ronald Alexander, had appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, pleading for financial support for Charles L. Spain Elementary School. Alexander had appeared on the show via video conferencing and showed footage of classrooms with caved-in roofs and a broken-down gym, then pointed out that there were no computers or internet facilities at the school.

DeGeneres had announced a string of donations worth $500,000 from Lowe’s, the home-improvement company, and Justin Bieber had donated $1 from every ticket sold at a concert he was holding in Detroit. “I am the happiest principal on Earth. I love you! I love you again! This is the best,” Alexander had said. Soon after, he was named as one of the 12 principals and one assistant superintendent who had fraudulently profited from the kickbacks, according to The Washington Post.

[Image via Shutterstock/Ai825]

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