RJ Sangosti—DP/Getty Images
By Kerry Close
March 29, 2016

Pencils and erasers aren’t the stereotypical stuff of great corruption schemes—except, apparently, in Detroit, where a dozen principals were charged in a $1 million bribery operation involving school supplies.

In a federal complaint announced Tuesday by Barbara McQuade, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Detroit Public Schools principals are charged with directing millions of dollars of business toward one school supply vendor, Norman Shy, owner of Allstate Sales, the Detroit Free Press reported. The school supply vendor then gave the principals money for their referrals.

Court records indicate that principals would submit fake invoices to DPS, for goods that were rarely delivered—while the vendor took home a paycheck. The vendor was aided in his scheme by Clara Flowers, an assistant superintendent at DPS who first selected him as the school system’s vendor. In return, the vendor kept a notebook to track how much money he owed the superintendant in kickbacks, which came in the form of cash and gift cards. The supplier also tried to disguise his payments to the school official using underhanded techniques such as checks payable to contractors who worked on the school official’s home.

Here’s a roundup of some of the alleged misdeeds of the principals, who are likely not as smart as the fifth-graders they oversee:

  • Beverly Campbell, a former principal at both Rosa Parks School and Greenfield Union Elementary-Middle School, allegedly accepted $50,000 in cash kickbacks from Shy. He was the school’s supply vendor but was paid anyway due to phony invoiced that Campbell signed.
  • Ronald Alexander, the principal at Charles L. Spain Elementary, allegedly pocketed $23,000 from Shy for using him as a vendor.
  • Gerlma Johnson, a former principal at Earhart Elementary-Middle School, accepted almost $23,000 in cash kickbacks from Shy.

The charges come as the school district struggles with an operating deficit of more than $500 million. The Michigan state legislature has been trying to create a solution to solve the financial woes of the district, which has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009.

The corruption scandal may complicate deliberations between the state House and Senate, which have different proposals for how to handle the district’s money troubles. The charges may strengthen the position of the House, which proposes stronger oversight over the district and limit collective bargaining for teachers.

“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,” said Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter in a statement.

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