The Detroit principal who was charged with bribery just weeks after his school won a $500,000 giveaway on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show is pleading for mercy, hoping to stay out of jail for his crime because "his mother truly depends on him."
Moreover, his lawyer says, he's a "God-fearing man" who has learned his lesson.
"Make no mistake, Mr. (Ronald) Alexander has learned an invaluable lesson from this experience and is no threat to the public," attorney William Ford wrote in a filing today, stressing a jail sentence would "cause irreparable harm to (Alexander) and his family."
Alexander, ex-principal at Spain Elementary who cried tears of joy on national TV after learning about the DeGeneres prize, faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 8 for accepting $23,000 in kickbacks from vendor Norman Shy. The money was a thank-you for helping the businessman bill Detroit Public Schools for supplies that were never delivered.
Alexander, however, is asking a judge to give him no jail time and sentence him to community service instead, arguing he's the sole caregiver for his 87-year-old mother, who has a vascular disease in her leg.
"He drives her to many doctors' appointments, provides food for her and takes her to church and any events she desires to attend," Ford argued in court documents. "He washes her clothes to prevent her from going into the basement and administers her medication daily and makes certain that she is on schedule. He enjoys taking care of his mother."
Alexander also takes care of his godmother, who is in early stages of dementia, Ford said.
Family obligations aside, Ford also portrayed his client as a "true helper of the community" who has made many contributions, including helping students and their parents with utility bills, car repairs, car tire purchases and landlord issues.
"Mr. Alexander has been a productive member of society and is a God-fearing man," Ford wrote. "He has made many contributions to different organizations and has helped many families in need."
As for his crime, Ford wrote: "There is no question that this is a serious offense. However, Mr. Alexander is remorseful and asserts that this is an isolated incident."
The U.S. Attorney's Office, meanwhile, believes Alexander deserves to serve time in prison for his crime. Federal prosecutors have already given him a break for cooperating. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Alexander faces 24-30 months in prison, but the government has recommended a slightly more lenient sentence of 19-24 months due to his cooperation in its investigation.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts will have the final say.
Alexander made national news in February when he went on national TV excited over a $500,000 gift from the Ellen DeGeneres show. The next month, Alexander was charged in a kickback scheme involving 12 DPS principals and an assistant superintendent who helped vendor Norman Shy bill DPS $2.7 million for supplies that were never delivered.
Out of the 14 defendants, 13 have pleaded guilty and all face prison sentences. Shy faces the most: up to seven years.
Despite his crime, Alexander's school is still getting the mega giveaway from the DeGeneres show — it was the largest in the show's history. In addition to a possible prison sentence, Alexander also has to pay $23,000 in restitution to DPS.
According to his plea agreement, Alexander received $23,000 worth of prepaid gift cards and checks from Shy in exchange for signing off on Shy's fraudulent invoices, knowing he was billing DPS for supplies that were never delivered to his school. The scheme lasted for five years, from 2009 to 2014, records show.
The only defendant who has not pleaded guilty in the case is Josette Buendia, 50, of Garden City, former principal at Bennett Elementary School. She is going to trial on charges she accepted $45,775 in kickbacks from Shy.
None of the accused DPS principals work at the district anymore. Some already had retired before the charges were filed; the others were let go.
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