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Proclaiming that she “fell out of the grace of God,” a Detroit public schools principal this week pleaded guilty to accepting $194,000 in kickbacks from a vendor, reports the Detroit Free Press.

But Clara Smith, 67, principal at Thirkell Elementary-Middle School, said the scam to submit phony invoices for rarely delivered supplies was the idea of the vendor, who reportedly paid her $194,000 in kickbacks.

In a plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, Smith said she initially declined participation in the scam, but the vendor insisted.

I fell out of the grace of God by going along with the scheme,” she said, according to the Free Press:

He was saying, ‘Most of the principals are doing it. I’ve been a vendor for 50 years, and no one has ever gotten caught,'” said Smith, who hid inside the federal courthouse for more than three hours to avoid the media, and then hid her face behind an umbrella when she eventually emerged.

Smith, 67, of Southfield faces between 46 and 57 months in federal prison for her crime, which involved approving phony purchase orders that allowed a vendor to bill DPS for materials that rarely made it to the classroom. The maximum penalty she faced was five years in prison. She also has to pay $194,000 in restitution to DPS, which had given her the authority to choose her own vendors.

The vendor in this case, Norman Shy, 74, of Franklin, also has been charged and faces a May 11 plea hearing. Smith was just one of his cohorts, prosecutors allege, as they have charged Shy with running kickback schemes with 12 principals and one assistant superintendent over 13 years.

Smith will be sentenced on Sept. 7.



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