Two Autos and Bags of Cash Kickbacks in Detroit Public Schools Wellness Case

October 21, 2011

On April 28, 2010, a federal grand jury unsealed an eight-count indictment naming:

  • Stephen Hill, age 58, of Detroit, MI, former Detroit Public Schools ("DPS") Executive Director of Risk Management ;
  • Christina Polk-Osumah, age 59, of Detroit, MI, former DPS Risk Management Finance Manager;
  • Sherry Washington, age 53, of Detroit, MI; and;
  • Gwendolyn Washington, age 66, of Detroit.
    • Sherry Washington and Gwendolyn Washington were partners of Associates for Learning ("A4L"), a vendor hired to administer a health awareness program for DPS.

The Indictment alleged that Hill and Polk-Osumah had converted more than $3 million of DPS funds to themselves, family, and friends. If found guilty of all counts, the defendants faced a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years' incarceration on each of the eight counts of the indictment.

Superseding Indictment

On October 27, 2010, a nine-count Superseding Indictment named eight individuals and additionally charged Hill with extortion, program fraud, conspiracy to commit those offenses, and money laundering conspiracy.  It was alleged that Hill had demanded and accepted over $3.3 million in kickback payments in consideration of his processing fraudulently inflated invoices submitted to DPS from A4L. Hill was further charged with accepting kickbacks from other vendors in the form of a new 2005 Mustang GT convertible and new 2006 Dodge Durango SUV.

In addition to Hill and the Washingtons (all named in the original Indictment), Marilyn White (56), and Sally Jo Bond (61), partners in A4L, were named as part of the conspiracy to commit program fraud.  A4L was charged with having contracted with Hill at DPS to facilitate a wellness program for DPS employees.  Apparently, the original proposal for such services came in at $150,000.

SIDE BAR:  Just to be clear, this is all about contracting an entity to "facilitate a wellness program." 

You know, maybe it's just me but anytime I see that anyone or any entity is being paid to facilitate anything, that's usually a sure sign that there's something fishy likely going on.  I mean, you know, just what the hell does it even mean to facilitate?  I can sort of understand being paid to provide a wellness program, but where do we even begin when it comes to getting our arms around that nebulous concept of facilitating a wellness program?

And, while I'm on this rant, just what the hell is a wellness program anyway? 

As too often seems the case with government contracts, in 2005 and 2006, A4L submitted three inflated invoices to DPS for about  $1 million each.  Maybe I misread something but - whoa!!! - didn't the feds say that this was initially a $150,000 proposal?  And that mushrooms into three $1 million invoices??  This facilitating wellness thing sounds like a great line of work. Where do I sign up?

Anyway, as a consequence of DPS' payment of those multi-million dollar invoices, Hill received a 5% cash kickback from the company.  The Washingtons were also charged with a money laundering conspiracy designed to conceal the kickbacks.

The Superseding Indictment also charged Thomas Ray Taylor(56), and Polk-Osumah's sister, Valerie Polk (53), and brother, Duane Polk(51), with conspiring to commit program fraud by submitting fraudulent invoices to DPS for services and thereafter participating in making kickbacks to Hill, including the purchase of the Mustang and Dodge Durango.

Valerie Polk is also charged with paying for two private parties for her mother with funds received fraudulently from DPS.

Hill was also charged with conspiring to use DPS funds to pay for his $40,000 retirement party when he temporarily left DPS in September 2005.

Hill Pleads Out

On May 2, 2011, Hill pleaded guilty to one count each of:

  • Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right, and
  • conspiracy to commit program fraud.

After pleading guilty, Hill cooperated with prosecutors and testified at Sherry Washington's trial that he awarded the DPS wellness plan to A4L with no competitive bidding and with no written contract.

SIDE BAR:  Let me just re-state that.  No competitive bidding.  No written contract. Only in government.  Only in government.  And some folks still don't understand how pernicious it is to keep raising taxes without demanding adequate checks and balances on those who receive those funds and are charged with properly disbursing them.

Hill also testified that Sherry Washington proposed the cash kickback to him, which she later delivered to him in the form of "bags of cash."

Jury In A Hurry

On June 30, 2011, following a two-week jury trial and after only about 1 hours of deliberation,  Sherry Washington was convicted of program fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Final Reckoning

On September 2, 2010, Defendant Polk-Osumah, died of natural causes.

Defendant Sherry Washington: 84 months in prison and ordered pay $3.3 million restitution to DPS.

Defendant Hill: 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $3.32 million restitution to DPS.

Defendant Duane Polk: 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $788,674 restitution to DPS.

Defendant White: 21 months in prison and ordered to pay $3.322 million restitution to DPS.

Defendant Bond: 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $3.322 million restitution to DPS.

Defendant Valerie Polk: 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $347,74 restitution to DPS.

Defendant Taylor: 1 year and 1 day in prison and ordered to pay $440,928 restitution to DPS.

Defendant Gwendolyn Washington will be sentenced on November 14, 2011.