Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara ByrdBennett

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Former CEO of Chicago schools sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for accepting bribes

Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in 2015 to taking part in a contract-rigging scheme.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former top administrator of Chicago Public Schools, has been sentenced to serve 4 1/2 years in prison for her role in a corruption scheme in the nation's third-largest school district.

CBS Chicago reports that Byrd-Bennett, 67, blamed the “overwhelming” pressures of the job when she spoke in court Friday afternoon before receiving the sentence

She also told U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang that she was “terribly wrong” for arranging $2.3 million in kickbacks in the contract-steering scheme.

Before imposing sentence, Chang said the “casualness” of Byrd-Bennett’s crime made it worse.

“The emails were even sprinkled with humor of all things,” he said. “It sends a signal you didn’t think you’d get caught."

In written pleadings submitted before the sentencing hearing, Byrd-Bennett's attorney had argued that the former administrator deserves far less prison time than the seven-plus years that prosecutors were seeking. Byrd-Bennett asked for a sentence of no more than three-and-a-half years.

Defense attorney Michael Scudder's sentencing memo asserted that justice could be served by a shorter prison term if accompanied by a requirement of community service that would take advantage of Byrd-Bennett's "unique expertise...for the benefit of public education everywhere."

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in 2015 of fraud for agreeing to take kickbacks of as much as $2.3 million from educational consulting companies owned by her former employers. She became CEO of the school system in 2012 and resigned in 2015

Prosecutors accused her of arranging to steer about $23 million in no-bid contracts in 2012 and 2013 to the companies. She never collected any of the kickbacks; she planned to defer the bribe payments until she was no longer a Chicago school district employee.

Last month, Gary Solomon, co-owner of The SUPES Academy consulting firm, whom prosecutors called the "mastermind" behind the contract-rigging scheme, was sentenced to serve seven years in prison for his role in the bribery scandal.

Earlier Friday, Thomas Vranas, the other co-owner of SUPES Academy, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his part in the bribery scheme.

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