Detroit's Maserati-driving principal in Kentucky prison for bribery scheme

DETROIT — Detroit's infamous Maserati-driving principal woke up in prison for the first time Wednesday, though she's not in the so-called Camp Cupcake facility that housed her female predecessors who committed similar crimes.

Kenyetta Wilbourn-Snapp, the center of a sweeping school corruption investigation in Detroit, is serving her sentence for bribery at the Lexington Federal Medical Center in Kentucky, a prison that houses inmates of all classifications with various health issues and has an adjacent minimum security satellite camp for women, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

BOP records do not show which facility Wilbourn-Snapp is in, though she is believed to be in the satellite camp, which is adjacent to a prison whose inmates include terror suspects and drug traffickers.

This setting is starkly different than the federal minimum-security prison in Alderson, W.Va. — dubbed Camp Cupcake because of its amenities and sorority-like setting in the Virginia hills — where former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers and ex-gallery owner Sherry Washington served their time for corruption in Detroit.

Washington received a seven-year sentence in 2011 for bilking $3.3 million from the Detroit Public Schools through a sham wellness program. Conyers served three years for taking bribes in exchange for her vote in  a $1-billion sludge deal.

Wilbourn-Snapp, a former principal at Denby and Mumford High Schools who once tooled around town in a Maserati with a Gucci vanity plate, is serving one year for taking a $58,050 bribe from a tutoring vendor. The Maserati was a gift from a vendor. She has previously said that taking kickbacks from crooked vendors was a way of life for her and many Detroit school officials, and that she got her start in thievery at DPS.

Wilbourn-Snapp's crime involved scamming from Detroit's lowest-performing schools when she was supposed to be helping them.

According to federal prosecutors, Wilbourn-Snapp wound up at the center of a federal probe following an audit of the Education Achievement Authority, a state-created agency designed to help Detroit's lowest-performing schools. Wilbourn-Snapp, whose high schools were part of the EAA,  pleaded guilty to bribery in February, admitting she pocketed a  bribe from a tutoring vendor and spent it on herself while working for the EAA.

The vendor also pleaded guilty. So did an independent contractor who delivered the bribes to Wilbourn-Snapp at a bank, and kept some for herself.

Wilbourn-Snapp's case proved fruitful for investigators.

After charging Wilbourn-Snapp, authorities zeroed in on longtime DPS vendor Norman Shy, who unknowingly led investigators on a paper trail that would uncover a $2.7-million kickback scheme and trigger charges against 14 people: Shy, 12 DPS principals and an assistant superintendent. Shy was charged with billing DPS $2.7 million for school supplies that were never delivered with the help of principals who approved his phony invoices in exchange for kickbacks.

Out of the 14 charged in that scheme, 13 have pleaded guilty, including Shy, who faces up to seven years in prison when he is sentenced in September. In court documents — and in the courtroom — several of the defendants have claimed that cutting deals with vendors was a way of life at DPS.

But it was Wilbourn-Snapp, perhaps more than anyone else, who publicly disclosed what she described as a pervasive culture of corruption that went hidden in Detroit schools for years.

"If you needed money, you could get money," Wilbourn-Snapp, 40, told Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley in a series of exclusive interviews last fall.

“There's a network," Wilbourn-Snapp said. "It's so deep.”

Follow Tresa Baldas: @TBaldas.


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