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DPS principal bribery scandal: Far from over

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Let there be no doubt; Franklin businessman Norman Shy, who operated his All State Sales school supplies business from his multimillion dollar mansion before he did so from his million dollar Franklin home, is not finished talking.

He admitted in open court Wednesday he ran a bribery scheme using DPS principals and even an Assistant Superintendent as partners. It was simple enough, he sweet talked the principals into using his company for paper and other school supplies, order large lots, accept shorted deliveries and Shy would pay the principals kickbacks for the pleasure of doing business.

Unaware, DPS administrators were paying Shy for all the invoiced he could send. Shy was anything but. He convinced some principals into opening up side businesses where he could have his business write checks there so the principal could enjoy the cash undetected by the tax man. Other principals were happy to take checks paid either to them or other family members.

Shy was handing out gift cards like candy on Halloween! Perhaps his boldest move was to pay contractors for Deputy Superintendent Clara Flowers so she could turn her Detroit home into a showplace. In all, Shy’s business took in nearly three million dollars from 2008 to 2014 and the principals took home just under one million dollars of their own.

Wednesday's court hearing was most telling of this entire case that started publically on March 29 (although the investigation started much earlier last year). The day started with two principals pleading guilty in the scheme.

Ronnie Sims, currently a substitute teacher in Albion, Michigan was principal at two different DPS schools; Brenda Scott Middle and Fleming Elementary. Though it’s fairly well known, those two east side schools are in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods where there are more vacant homes on the adjoining streets than there are occupied. Sims will serve something between 30 and 37 months in prison and pay back $58,519.23 in restitution.

“I actually entered into a relationship with DPS vendor Norman Shy," Sims said. "We would, I would, submit basically fraudulent documents and he gave me kickbacks outside Title 1.”

After Sims came Gerlma Johnson, a widowed former principal of Charles Drew Academy and Amelia Earhart Middle School.

“I worked with Mr. Shy to get things for school and I received gift cards,” Johnson said of Shy.

Johnson received $22,000 worth of gift cards. She is now facing 24 to 30 months in prison and also must pay back that cash.

Both of them faced arraignment last month and had their hearings Wednesday.

Shy, able to afford a top dollar defense, was able to have one stop shopping; his arraignment at 1 p.m. and then his plea agreement hearing at 2 p.m. After pleading guilty to federal program bribery and tax evasion, Shy now faces an impressive 70 to 87 months in prison and must pay back nearly three million dollars in restitution. He also has written a check to the IRS for more than $51,000 in back taxes for the 2011 tax year.

Each of these plea deals comes with one important stipulation: each must fully cooperate further with investigators. The more they talk the more leniencies they can expect when they come back to court in September for sentencing.  That could mean there is quite possibly much more wrongdoing to uncover. How much is anyone’s guess. But Local 4 got a window into that notion earlier at the plea agreement hearing of Deputy Superintendent Clara Flowers. She said under oath that when Norman Shy approached her, he said “I’ve been doing this for nearly 50 years and no one has ever been caught.”  

Flowers and the rest of the principals are also obligated to help investigators further.

Once again, while it’s implied, it is vital to reiterate considering the financial problems and turmoil DPS is facing now, that this kind of corruption steals from some of the poorest of the poor children in all of Michigan. DPS kids are already challenged to get an education but when the people who are charged with their care feel it is OK to short them on supplies, they are further put behind the educational eight ball.  What’s more, we don’t have to look very far to find a parade of DPS officials marching off to federal prison.

One of the more egregious parts of this case involves the aforementioned former Principal Sims. Back in 2010 there was a documentary film made of him and his work with the young boys of Fleming Elementary. It was called "The Gentleman's Club." Film maker Erin Curd portrayed him as a true role model hero.

“He’s a warm and engaging and loving principal who really was invested in these children and wanted to see them do well," Curd told Local 4 back in March.

At the time Sims decried the embezzlement inside DPS. He was teaching they boys at his school such things as table manners, how to tie a necktie and play baseball.

“As a result of a lack of assets we have not had busses and had to have field trips canceled," Sims said looking directly into the camera. “That money that was supposedly taken, we know it was taken, it was embezzled, it could have gone to busses, we could have hired new bus drivers!"

He claimed his boys were writing on the chalkboard for the lack of paper and pencils. 

This at a time when he now openly admits he was working with Norman Shy and pocketing thousands of dollars that could have bought the boys and girls in the school some sorely needed supplies. He appeared a hero, when he was anything but and when Local 4 did this story Curd also said of Sims’ felony bribery charges “That is heart breaking. If what they say is true, it's despicable." 

So now, for those involved in this scandal will be about the business of taking care of their own best interests yet again by helping investigators uncover more theft. Let’s hope their suspicions are incorrect.


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