Detroit Principals Pocketed $900K In Bribery Scheme — ‘This Is A Real Punch In The Gut’

For 13 years, school principals in Detroit allegedly partnered with a vendor in a bribery scheme that put $900,000 in kickbacks into their pockets as the school district struggled to stay afloat.

The bribery scheme has resulted in sweeping arrests after a two-year investigation in the state’s biggest district. Meanwhile, Michigan’s governor has pledged millions in emergency funding to Detroit’s district, and lawmakers are figuring out how to fix its finances.

The charges related to the bribery scheme aren’t related to these measures. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced the charges in a press conference.

“The real victims in a case like this are the students and the families… the teachers and the educators who want to make a difference. A case like this is a real punch in the gut.”

At the center of the alleged crime is school supplies vendor Allstate Sales and its owner, Norman Shy, NBC News reported. His company sells auditorium chairs, supplemental teaching materials, and paper, among other items, and worked with numerous schools.

According to prosecutors, a dozen Detroit principals used Allstate as a supply vendor, but received money instead of supplies, the Detroit Free Press reported. The principals allegedly submitted fake invoices to the company for items the schools never received, and Shy paid up: some received as little as $4,000, others as much as $324,000.

He did this in secret with principals for 13 years, conducted $2.7 million in business with the district, and ultimately conned schools out of $908,000 in kickbacks. The bribery scheme was gradually uncovered starting two years ago, when an agency formed by the state to help its troubled schools, the Education Achievement Authority, conducted an audit.

The audit ultimately landed one principal in hot water. Two months ago, that woman — Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp — pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other principals.

It’s not clear if the new charges against other Detroit principals are a result of this arrangement.

Media reports have focused on one principal and assistant superintendent named Clara Flowers, 61. She and Shy partnered from February, 2009, to January, 2015. As part of her job, Flowers selected vendors and ordered materials for more than one school, and ultimately took home more than $300,000.

In his bribery arrangement with Flowers, Shy allegedly noted their transactions in a ledger that reminded him how much she was owed in kickbacks. The money was paid via checks to contractors working on her home, to her personal business, and prepaid gift cards.

Attorneys for the Detroit principals haven’t responded to media requests for comment. Defense lawyer Doraid Elder asked the public to focus on the good his client, principal Stanley Johnson, 62, has done in Detroit’s embattled schools. Johnson allegedly accepted $84,170 in kickbacks; he submitted invoices to Shy, and got money instead of goods through sham companies.

“Let’s not rush to judgment. These are merely allegations. I don’t want people to forget that he’s put over two decades of his heart and soul into giving kids the best education possible. At times, he’s reached in his own pocket and paid for things to help get the kids certain resources that they normally would not be able to get. He’s had decades of a stellar record.”

Six of the principals are current district employees (and have been placed on unpaid leave and replaced with interim leaders) and the rest were formerly employed there. The defendants are cooperating, their charges coming not by grand jury indictment, but through a document that may indicate a plea deal is imminent.

McQuade had the following to say.

“It may seem easy to take a bribe, but it’s also easy to get caught… and we will hold you and make you accountable.”

[Photo by Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock]

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