Former Chief Executive of Chicago Public Schools Pleads Guilty to Accepting Bribes and Kickbacks to Steer No-Bid Contracts
CHICAGO — BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT pleaded guilty in federal court today to using her position as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools to guide lucrative no-bid contracts to her former employer in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.
In a written plea agreement, Byrd-Bennett admitted that she steered no-bid contracts worth more than $23 million to two education-consulting firms, THE SUPES ACADEMY LLC and SYNESI ASSOCIATES LLC. In exchange, Byrd-Bennett expected to receive cash kickbacks from the companies, as well as a consulting job at SUPES upon her retirement from CPS. The kickbacks were to be paid to Byrd-Bennett in the form of a “signing bonus” on the first day of her new employment, according to the plea agreement.
Byrd-Bennett previously worked as a consultant for SUPES and Synesi before moving to CPS in May 2012. She served as CEO at CPS from Oct. 12, 2012, to June 1, 2015.
Byrd-Bennett, 66, of Solon, Ohio, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, mandatory restitution, and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greater. The Court will impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The Court will schedule a sentencing date at a later time. U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang scheduled a status hearing for Jan. 27, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
In addition to the expected kickback from the contracts, Byrd-Bennett admitted in the plea agreement that the companies provided her with numerous other benefits, including meals and tickets to sporting events.
The Wilmette-based SUPES and the Evanston-based Synesi are also charged in the indictment, along with their respective former owners, GARY SOLOMON, 47, of Wilmette, and THOMAS VRANAS, 34, of Glenview. The four co-defendants are scheduled for an arraignment on Oct. 14, 2015, at 2:00 p.m., before Judge Chang.
Byrd-Bennett’s guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; John A. Brown, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Nicholas J. Schuler, Inspector General for the Chicago Public Schools.
The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorneys Megan Cunniff Church and Lindsay Jenkins.