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High-level administrator in Chicago district resigns after investigation questions Covid-19 business loan

Sept. 6, 2023
The school system's inspector general found that Crystal Cooper, the district's head of school operations, improperly received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

A top Chicago Public Schools official has resigned after the school system’s inspector general found she inflated her income to increase the amount of a Covid-19 relief loan on a side business.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Crystal Cooper, who as head of school operations reported directly to CEO Pedro Martinez, was the highest-ranking of 14 district staffers to leave their jobs as a result of Inspector General Will Fletcher’s investigation of federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans they received.

Cooper was found to have inflated her income for a side business she had never reported to the school district to get a PPP loan of $15,625.

Like most of the country’s 11.4 million PPP loans, hers was forgiven, so she didn’t have to pay it back.

Cooper and 11 others have been barred from working again for the school district. Two other school employees face termination proceedings. 

The 14 were found to have lied on their loan applications about being self-employed, some inventing fake businesses.

Fletcher did not say how many of the cases have been referred for criminal investigation.

The forced resignations and firings at the school district are the latest reckonings for Covid-19 relief programs whose lax rules have made them easy targets for rampant fraud. The program was intended to support small businesses by keeping paychecks in their workers’ pockets. But many public employees also took out loans they weren’t entitled to. 

Among the Chicago Public Schools employees Fletcher’s report cited:

  • A regional superintendent making $165,000 also was found to have created a fake business to obtain a PPP loan for the maximum $20,000 available to sole proprietors. The official used some of the loan proceeds on travel including a trip to Las Vegas and on “expensive luxury goods,” Fletcher found. The administrator admitted to investigators having had no business or outside work.  
  • A $140,000-a-year school administrator falsely claimed to be a chef with $100,000 in income to obtain a $20,000 PPP loan but admitted to investigators never having worked as a chef.
  • Another $100,000-a-year school administrator initially denied receiving any PPP money but changed that story when shown records of the $20,000 loan, then said it was a case of identity theft — but admitted getting and spending the money. 
  • And a $120,000-a-year district administrator whose job involved overseeing federal grants for the district inflated outside income to fraudulently qualify for a $20,000 PPP loan.

MORE: Read the Inspector General's report (11 pages).

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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