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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Former U of M professor pleads guilty to sexual exploitation of minor; Detroit cop pleads guilty to taking tower bribes

Stephen Shipps
University of Michigan
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Stephen Shipps faces sexual misconduct allegations that span four decades. He pleaded guilty to one count of transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity.

A former University of Michigan music professor pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually exploiting a minor.

Stephen Shipps taught violin at the University of Michigan from 1989 until he went on paid leave in 2018, following a Michigan Daily story that detailed 40 years of sexual misconduct allegations against him. He retired from the university in 2019. Shipps was also the director of the Strings Preparatory Program, where he worked with aspiring child musicians.

In a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Shipps pleaded guilty to one count of transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. In that incident, Shipps took a young musician from Michigan to New York at least twice, where he engaged in sexual activity with her. The girl was 16 years old at the time.

Shipps will be sentenced in February, and faces up to 15 years in prison.

“Shipps used his position of trust to sexually exploit a child,” Detroit Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement. “Well-regarded music professors at prestigious universities with competitive music programs like the University of Michigan enjoy tremendous influence within the music community. These professors often have the ability to make or break careers.

“Stephen Shipps was an influential and highly sought after violin professor who had successfully launched many careers. I commend the brave young woman who stepped forward and exposed Shipps’s abuse. This case proves that the passage of time, no matter how long, will not deter us from bringing to justice those who prey on our most vulnerable.”

Also in Detroit federal court Tuesday, a former Detroit police officer pleaded guilty to taking more than $3,000 in bribes, in yet another case of corruption involving the city’s towing industry.

Alonzo Jones was in charge of the Detroit Police Vehicle Auction. One of his duties was to fill out forms sent to the Michigan Secretary of State, which records the auction of seized or abandoned vehicles by law enforcement agencies. If there are no bidders on an auctioned abandoned vehicle, the police can transfer ownership of the vehicle to the towing company.

From July 2019 to May 2021, Jones accepted bribes to falsify those forms from a confidential source involved in the towing industry and an undercover federal agent. According to court documents, “The falsified forms effectively transferred ownership of abandoned vehicles to [the bribe-payers] without holding a public auction as required by law.”

Jones will be sentenced in March and faces up to 10 years in prison, though court records indicate he is cooperating with law enforcement. Jones is the fourth person charged in what the FBI calls Operation Northern Hook, which is “an investigation of corruption within the government and the Police Department of the City of Detroit relating to the towing industry and other matters.” In September, former Detroit City Council member Andre Spivey pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from towers attempting to influence his votes on city council.

Editor's note: U of M holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

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