Thirteen current and former Detroit principals, including the principal of a school featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, have been charged in a bribe and kickback scheme involving close to $1 million.
According to NBC News, the alleged scheme involved the principals ordering supplies, such as auditorium chairs and teaching materials, from Allstate Sales, a school-supply vendor. The schools would submit fake invoices for items never received, and in exchange for the "purchases," the principals received payments, Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said at a news conference.
"The real victims in a case like this are the students and the families … the teachers and the educators who want to make a difference," McQuade said. "A case like this is a real punch in the gut."
McQuade noted that each of the principals has been charged with conspiracy. The investigation began two years ago after a routine audit that led to another principal, Kenyetta "K.C." Wilbourn Snapp, being indicted and agreeing to cooperate with authorities, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Five of the 13 principals named in the scheme no longer work for the Detroit Public School system.
One of the principals charged, Ronald Alexander, appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in February. He is now accused of taking some $23,000 in kickbacks. While on the television show, Alexander talked about how his school, Spain Elementary-Middle School, didn't have heat in the classrooms or enough money for books.
DeGeneres and Lowe's teamed up to donate $500,000 to the school, and pop star Justin Bieber even pledged $1 from each ticket of his Michigan concert to the school.
"Of all the people in the whole world, I am the happiest principal on earth," Alexander said at the time, NBC reports.
McQuade told those gathered at the press conference that the principals have been cooperative in the federal government's investigation, and she issued a stern warning for those who take bribes.
"It may seem easy to take a bribe, but it's also easy to get caught," she said, "and we will hold you and make you accountable."