Former Chicago Schools CEO pleads guilty to fraud charge

Former Chicago Schools CEO pleads guilty to fraud charge

Barbara Byrd Bennett admits to defrauding district by taking kickback on contract

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, has pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud for her part in a contract kickback scheme.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Byrd-Bennett entered a plea Tuesday morning to one count of fraud. She came to court to be arraigned on charges brought in an indictment handed down last week.

Byrd-Bennett, 66, was facing 20 mail and wire fraud counts. The remaining 19 counts will be dismissed as part of her agreement to plead guilty, prosecutors say.

The indictment accused Byrd-Bennett of pocketing a 10 percent kickback on all the Chicago Public Schools contracts she could deliver to her former employers, The SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, firms that train principals and improve troubled schools. Those firms received some $23 million in no-bid deals with Chicago, the nation's third-largest district.

Byrd-Bennett's sentencing will be postponed until the cases of the other defendants are resolved. Gary Solomon and Tom Vranas, co-owners of SUPES Academy, are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday. Prosecutors say they have agreed to recommend a reduced sentence for Byrd-Bennett provides as long as she provides “full and truthful cooperation" in the case.

Prosecutors say the kickbacks Byrd-Bennett received were to be used to set up college funds for her twin grandsons.

Byrd-Bennett began working for Chicago Public Schools in 2012 as chief education officer in 2012 and became CEO later that year after the resignation of Jean-Claude Brizard. Before coming to Chicago, Byrd-Bennett had been a district administrator in Detroit, Cleveland and New York City. 

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