Former Chicago Public Schools chief
sentenced for fraud
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[April 29, 2017]
By Timothy Mclaughlin
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on
Friday sentenced the former chief executive of the Chicago Public
Schools to 4-1/2 years in prison for her role in a scheme to steer
lucrative contracts to one of her previous employers in exchange for
kickbacks and bribes, the Department of Justice said.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang
at a Chicago courthouse, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern
District of Illinois said in a statement.
An attorney for Byrd-Bennett declined to comment.
"I'm ashamed and I'm sorry. I let down the students and their families.
They deserved better," Byrd-Bennett said in court, the Chicago Tribune
Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012 appointed Byrd-Bennett, a veteran education
reformer, to head the district after the first teachers' strike in
Chicago in 25 years. The district serves around 400,000 students in more
than 600 schools.
"Barbara betrayed the public trust. She broke the law. She turned her
back on the very children she was entrusted to serve, and the children
of Chicago are owed much better than that," Emanuel said in a statement
Byrd-Bennett resigned in June 2015 amid a federal probe into a $20.5
million no-bid contract for a principal training program the
cash-strapped district had awarded to her previous employer, educational
consulting firm SUPES Academy.
She pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in October 2015 as part of
a plea agreement and agreed to cooperate against two co-defendants in
the case: the heads of SUPES and related firm Synesi Associates.
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Byrd-Bennett maintained an interest in the companies through a
secret consulting agreement, according to court documents. The
agreement promised to pay her a percentage of the proceeds from the
contracts she helped procure.
Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, who ran SUPES and Synesi, have both
been sentenced for their roles in the scheme. Solomon was sentenced
to seven years in prison by a federal judge in March and Vranas to
18 months on Friday, the Department of Justice said.
Byrd-Bennett was ordered to pay $15,000. She and her co-defendants
also must jointly pay $254,000 in restitution to CPS.
The CPS system continues to face financial woes due to the state's
broader fiscal problems.
A recent report by the Illinois State Board of Education indicated
the school system had enough cash on hand on average this year to
cover only 12 days of expenses.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis and Bill Rigby)
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