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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Chicago Schools CEO Faces Corruption Charges

(CN) - The former head of Chicago Public Schools is accused of taking bribes and kickbacks for giving lucrative contracts to a previous employer.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett was indicted Thursday on charges of mail and wire fraud, according to the U.S. Justice Department. She is accused of awarding contracts worth more than $23 million to The Supes Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Byrd-Bennett, 66, worked for the two companies before going to CPS in 2012, and they re-hired her after she stopped working for the school system, the Justice Department said.

The indictment claims that Supes and Synesi sent the bribe money to bank accounts set up in the name of Byrd-Bennett's relatives while she was working for CPS. After they re-hired her as a consultant, they disguised the funds as a signing bonus, the government says.

Supes and Synesi also allegedly gave Byrd-Bennett meals, an airplane ticket and tickets for sporting events, according to the indictment. The Justice Department says the companies specialize in training school administrators and principals.

The awarded contracts were part of a Chicago Board of Education training program, the indictment says. Supes got a $2 million contract two weeks after Byrd-Bennett became CEO of CPS in October 2012, and a $20 million contract the next year, prosecutors say. The former CEO allegedly told board officials they she didn't get any compensation from the companies.

Supes, Synesi and their former owners are also charged in the indictment. Gary Solomon, 47, and Thomas Vranas, 34, are both charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery of a government official, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Northern Illinois U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said school and city officials that abuse the public's trust will be held accountable.

"Graft and corruption in our city's public school system tears at the fabric of a vital resource for the children of Chicago," Fardon said.

If convicted, Byrd-Bennett, Solomon and Vranas face up to 20 years in prison for the fraud counts, a maximum fine of $250,000, and mandatory restitution. The bribery of a government official and conspiracy charges carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.

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