A nearly $1 million bribery and kickback scheme could land 12 current and former Detroit principals and one administrator in prison. Federal investigators say 74-year-old businessman Norman Shy is at the center of the scandal.

Shy allegedly paid principals anywhere from $4,000 to $324,000 in kickbacks to use him as a school supply vendor and is accused of scamming schools out of an estimated $2.7 million over the past 13 years.

One of the principals charged, Ronald Alexander of Spain Elementary, is no stranger to the spotlight. Earlier this year, Ellen DeGeneres handed over $500,000 worth of cash and gifts to the school.

DeGeneres donated the goods after they appeared in a documentary showing the problems plaguing Detroit Public Schools.

Last week, Michigan lawmakers approved $48 million dollars in emergency funding to ensure the school doesn’t run out of cash early next month. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade insists the charges have nothing to do with the existing financial troubles or the debate surrounding whether or not the state should help the city’s struggling school system.

On Wednesday’s edition of NewsOne Now, Michigan State Senator Bert Johnson spoke with Roland Martin about the kickback bribery scheme and the impact the scandal will have on saving Detroit Public Schools.

Johnson explained to Martin, “Republican lawmakers are going to have a lot to say” about this scandal. He added, “This is what they are going to use to say ‘there should be continuing oversight’” over the Detroit Public School system.

“The way that we have seen emergency management set up has allowed this kind of thing to happen,” Johnson said. He continued, “The way that emergency managers have decentralized operations in these individual schools and put real money in the hands of unscrupulous people with no oversight, while at the same time being lauded for doing all of these audits, has really festered an environment where this kind of thing can happen.” 

“Nobody in a principal’s position should have this kind of contact, as much contact with vendors who are always looking for sales, who are always looking for proceeds coming their way,” said Johnson.

He opined, “This is the kind of thing that makes it very difficult for Black Democrats in a White-dominated legislature like the one that I work in to do really good business on behalf of our kids.”

Martin reminded Sen. Johnson of a number of corruption scandals that have rocked the city of Detroit and said, “From a credibility standpoint from the public, it’s a little hard when you hear ‘help Detroit, help Detroit’ — when you have to go to the state capitol saying help Detroit and they can say, ‘Yeah, go talk to the folk who’ve been stealing from the district.’”

Johnson responded to Martin’s comment, saying, “We’ve had a lot of the same puppeteers handling the money here in the city of Detroit.” He continued by questioning the “character of a lot of our Black leaders” involved in these corruption scandals that keep manifesting themselves in the Motor City.

“It’s really important to have that conversation while at the same time trying to get the money that is so desperately needed and alleviate the debt on top of the district and give the kids the chance to really be educated in our system,” Johnson said.

When questioned if changes will be made to shift decision-making power to a centralized body who will have proper oversight, Johnson explained officials have proposed a piece of legislation that will take the power out of the hands of emergency managers and their appointees.

Watch Roland Martin and Michigan State Senator Bert Johnson discuss the latest corruption scandal to rock the city of Detroit in the video clip above.

TV One’s NewsOne Now has moved to 7 A.M. ET, be sure to watch “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin, in its new time slot on TV One.

Subscribe to the “NewsOne Now” Audio Podcast on iTunes.

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