Former Chicago Schools CEO Pleads Guilty

Former Chicago Schools CEO Pleads Guilty

On Tuesday, Barbara Byrd-Bennett who is a former head of Chicago Public schools, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud. It is alleged that she received illegal payments of $2.3 million from education firms to give them no-bid contracts of $23 million.

66 year old Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to a single fraud count in the Chicago federal court. Initially, she was facing twenty counts of fraud but prosecutors have dismissed 19 of these charges because Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one of these charges.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett could face a 7 ½ year prison sentence. This will be decided later by the US District Edmond Chang. During her hearing, she nervously replied to each of the judge’s questions by simply saying ‘Yes, your honor”.

In 2012 Barbara Byrd-Bennett became head of the Chicago Public Schools after being hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  She resigned earlier this year after spending 3 years in this position.

Problems Facing Chicago Public Schools

A wide range of problems are affecting CPS including its large budget shortfall and underfunded pension system. To make matters worse, many schools were closed in 2013 in an attempt to improve Chicago’s education system.

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The latest controversy involves the owners of two education service and training companies who are alleged to have given Byrd-Bennett a large payment and offered her another position. When she left Chicago Public Schools all of this was disguised as a signing bonus.

Email Evidence and Amounts Received

According to the indictment, an email from one of the executives involved highlights the amounts offered. The executive states that “If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day.”

It is also alleged that Barbara Byrd-Bennett would receive $2.3 million in kickbacks. The actual amount that changed hands is unclear. However it’s believed that the money received was redirected to trust accounts setup for 2 of her family members who were referred to as Relatives A and B.

Further evidence suggests that Byrd-Bennett’s main interest was money. This is obvious in an email send by her on Sept. 10, 2012 where she states that she has “tuition to pay and casinos to visit”.

Involvement with SUPRES Academy

It is understood the wrongdoing began in 2012, after she was appointed to her new position by the Democratic Mayor. However, after 3 years in the position, Barbara Byrd-Bennett was forced to step down when it emerged that there was a federal investigation taking place into dealings between CPS and a former employer of hers called SUPES Academy.

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Gary Soloman and Thomas Vranas have also been implicated in this controversy. They are alleged to have offered money, sports events tickets and other illegal payments in return for lucrative contracts.

These two company owners could be charged with bribery and conspiracy to defraud. SUPES Academy and a related company called Sysnesi Associates LLC are being charged too. However, the attorney for Gary Solomon stated that his client is cooperating but mistakes were made. There was no comment from Thomas Vranas representative.

Contracts between CPS and SUPES Academy have been put on hold. Barbara Byrd-Barrett has been ordered to give a DNA sample by the judge and will appear in court again on Jan 27th.

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