September 12, 2016
This week in textbook theft and fraud: Detroit Public Schools’ “killer of dreams” goes to jail
by Liam O’Brien
The school year may be just beginning, but that’s no reason why we can’t bring you the latest in textbook flimflammery, chicanery, and downright criminality. After all, it’s kind of what we do!
The latest dispatch revolves around the conclusion of a years-long legal case involving the theft of millions from Detroit Public Schools—which is no stranger to corrupt school administrators. Tresa Baldas reports for the Detroit Free Press:
The prosecutor called him a “killer of dreams.” The defendant said he made “a horrible mistake” in stealing from Detroit schoolchildren.
In the end, millionaire businessman Norman Shy, the central figure in a kickback scheme that cheated the struggling Detroit Public Schools out of $2.7 million, got a break: The 74-year-old vendor was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday, when he could have gotten two years more.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Shy faced up to seven years in prison for paying nearly $1 million in kickbacks to 12 principals and an assistant superintendent as a reward for approving his phony invoices. Prosecutors urged the judge to give Shy up to 87 months, no less than 70.
Shy asked the judge to show him mercy and give him three years max, citing his age, poor health and otherwise clean record.
Shy’s scheme involved overcharging DPS for textbooks or simply submitting wholly fictitious purchase orders, and then paying off the principals in charge of approving the invoices by sending them cash, gift cards, and other items. In total, 13 DPS employees were charged as accessories to the fraud, which netted Shy $2.7 million ill-gotten dollars out of the total of $5 million he collected from DPS.
The case has proved to be a massive embarrassment for an already-suffering school system, especially in light of the negligence that allowed Shy to operate the scheme as long as he did. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts conceded that Shy’s previously clean record spoke in his favor, but strongly supported a sentence that would deter similar corruption in the future.
“Any number of vendors now stand in the shoes of Mr. Shy… they, too, may be tempted to enrich themselves,” said Roberts, stressing that Shy’s sentence was not just about him, but for the community as well.
“Our children are priceless. They are entitled to every dime and every book sent their way,” said Roberts, who addressed Shy directly: “There simply is not an ethical credit for you to dodge a lengthy sentence.”
As for Shy’s co-conspirators at DPS, thirteen have pled guilty, and all of them face prison sentences.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.