CHICAGO (CN) - In a $65 million lawsuit, Chicago's Board of Education is suing its former CEO and two companies accused of bribing her in exchange for lucrative contracts.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, handpicked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, used her influence to "steer contracts worth more than $23 million to SUPES [Academy] and Synesi [Associates] in exchange for millions of dollars of secret kickbacks and bribes," according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County, Ill.
Byrd-Bennett, who used to work for SUPES, and Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the respective owners of SUPES and Synesi, "engaged in a conspiracy and scheme to enrich themselves at the expense of the schoolchildren of the City of Chicago," the complaint states.
The CEO resigned in June 2015 during a federal investigation into her actions. Byrd-Bennett handed a $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES for training programs for administrators and principals of Chicago Public Schools.
Solomon and Vranas allegedly sent bribe money to bank accounts Byrd-Bennett had set up in the names of relatives and gave her airplane and sports tickets. Byrd-Bennett also had a "secret consulting agreement" in which she got a percentage of revenues from CPS contracts, Thursday's lawsuit states.
Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one count in October after being indicted on 20 counts of mail and wire fraud by the U.S. Justice Department. The rest were dismissed as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, according to an ABC News report.
Outside of the courtroom that day, Byrd-Bennett told reporters she was sorry for what she did, and that CPS students and teachers "deserved much more, much more than I gave to them," ABC reported.
Although the contracts with SUPES and Synesi were suspended, the board of education's lawsuit says Byrd-Bennett has received $869,000 in public funds and SUPES and Synesi got away with $15.4 million, money the board wants back.
The lawsuit also claims that the defendants "have used and are continuing to use public funds fraudulently obtained...to pay multiple law firms to defend them in their efforts to avoid the consequences of their wrongful conduct."
The Chicago Board of Education seeks at least $65 million in damages and penalties. It is represented by Ronald Marmer, who did not immediately return a Friday phone call requesting comment.
SUPES and Synesi did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
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