School & District Management

Three Ex-Detroit Principals Sentenced to Prison for Role in Kickback Scheme

By Denisa R. Superville — September 14, 2016 1 min read

Three former Detroit principals were sentenced Wednesday to varying prison terms and required to pay restitution to the financially strapped school district for their roles in a kickback scheme that ensnared 13 district officials, according to the Detroit Free-Press.

The principals were implicated in a kickback scheme in which a former district vendor, Norman Shy, billed the school system for supplies that it never received, the newspaper reported. A dozen principals and one assistant superintendent approved Shy’s invoices in exchange for close to $1 million in payments, the paper said.

Shy pleaded guilty to charges related to the scheme in May, and he was sentenced last week to a five-year prison term and ordered to repay the district $2.7 million and $51,667 to the Internal Revenue Service to cover outstanding taxes. Those sentenced this week, the paper said, were:


  • Clara Smith, a former principal at Thirkell Elementary-Middle School, was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $194,000 in restitution to the district. In addition, Smith will serve one year under supervised release.
  • Willye Pearsall, a former principal of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, was sentenced to a 15-month prison term, which will be followed by one year of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution to the district and undergo treatment for gambling.
  • James Hearn, a former principal of Marcus Garvey Academy, was sentenced to 10 months in prison, along with one year of supervised release. Hearn also has to repay the district $11,500.

Most of the other educators involved in the scheme have already been sentenced.

All but one person has pleaded guilty, according to the Free-Press. That individual, former Principal Josette Buendia, is scheduled to go to trial in December.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.