Ex-Chicago Schools CEO Gets Four Years in Prison

CHICAGO (CN) – The former head of Chicago Public Schools was sentenced to four and a half years in prison Friday for taking bribes and kickbacks in exchange for handing out lucrative contracts to a previous employer.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, handpicked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be CEO of CPS in 2012, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang, a year and a half after she pleaded guilty.

Byrd-Bennett, 67, was indicted in 2015 on federal mail and wire fraud charges involving a scheme in which she steered over $23 million in principal training contracts to two north-suburban companies, Supes Academy and Synesi Academy, that she used to work for.

Accepting kickbacks like airline and sporting event tickets, Byrd-Bennett also had bribe money deposited in bank accounts set up under the names of her relatives.

Gary Solomon, 48, the owner of the training companies, set aside a line item in their budget for a “signing bonus” given to Byrd-Bennett when she returned as a consultant.

“If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day,” he told her in an email.

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty and was convicted of one count of honest services wire fraud in October 2015.

Last year, Solomon pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud, as did Supes and Synesi as corporate defendants.

All three were each ordered to pay part of $254,000 in restitution in March. Solomon was sentenced to 84 months of prison time and has already appealed.

Thomas Vranas, 36, a co-owner of Supes and Synesi, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday morning and will have to contribute to the restitution payment.

A civil lawsuit filed last year against the same defendants by the Chicago Board of Education has been on hold in Cook County Circuit Court.

The board is asking for at least $65 million from Byrd-Bennett and her co-conspirators. Its contracts with Supes and Synesi were suspended, but it says Byrd-Bennett was paid $869,000 in public funds while $15.4 million went to the companies.

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