Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Pleads Guilty

Barbara Byrd-Bennett has pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud. The former Chicago Public Schools CEO and General Superintendent is accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for vendor contracts during her three years with the school system. She is now facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prior to her employment with Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC — which are education consulting firms.

As stated in the plea agreement, Byrd-Bennett was hired as a consultant for Chicago Public Schools on May 1, 2012. Six months later, she was appointed Chief Executive Officer and General Superintendent.

Per her employment contract, Barbara was prohibited from having “an economic interest in any vendor contracts… once she became a consultant for CPS.” However, she reportedly arranged a financial scheme with The SUPES Academy LLC in anticipation of her employment with Chicago Public Schools.

According to the criminal complaint, Barbara Byrd-Bennett made an agreement with SUPES Academy LLC owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas in April, 2012.

The former CPS officer is specifically accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks from Solomon and Vranas for a period of three years, between April, 2012, and April, 2015.

In exchange for the bribes and kickbacks, Byrd-Bennett provided the education consulting firm with inside information about Requests for Proposals — which gave the company an unfair advantage over their competitors.

She is further accused of unfairly promoting the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy, which was developed by The SUPES Academy LLC. In addition to serving as a CELA coach and Master Teacher, Barbara used her official capacity with CPS to solicit funding for the academy.

Although she did not receive the bribes or kickbacks directly, Solomon and Vranas reportedly “created and funded financial accounts for the benefit of” two of Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s relatives.

As discussed in the plea agreement, it was understood that the “accounts contained payments owed to” the former Chicago Public Schools CEO.

Byrd-Bennett’s arrangement with Solomon and Vranas also included provisions for continued support after her contract with CSP expired.

According to the plea agreement, the SUPES Academy LLC owners agreed to employ Barbara as a consultant — which included a salary over $100,000 and a generous sign-on bonus. She was also to receive the funds held in her relatives’ accounts upon signing a contract with the consulting firm.

Although she did not receive immediate monetary compensation from Solomon and Vranas, the bribes and kickbacks included tickets to sporting events, meals, and personal items of notable value. As reported by DNAinfo, the former CEO eventually admitted that she “engaged in a scheme to deprive her former employer” of “honest services” as set forth in her employment contract.

After entering her guilty plea, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO and General Superintendent issued a formal statement an apology for her participation in the financial scheme.

“I am terribly sorry and I apologize to [students, parents, and colleagues] They deserved much more, much more than I gave to them… There is nobody to blame but me… the city needs — and the children deserve — leaders who are working without conflicts of interest.”

Per the plea agreement, Barbara Byrd-Bennett agreed to surrender her passport. She is now facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. She will also be ordered to pay restitution to the Chicago Public Schools. However, the amount has yet to be determined.

Following the hearing, Byrd-Bennett was released on $4,500 bond.

Although the former CEO could spend two decades in jail, she may face a lighter sentence for her testimony against Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s admitted involvement in the financial scheme has fueled controversy surrounding the city’s school board — which is currently appointed by the city mayor. Lawmakers are now demanding a revised system, including “an elected school board accountable to Chicagoans, not well-connected corporations.”

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