Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been indicted on corruption charges as a result of the $20 million no-bid SUPES Academy contract that led to her June resignation.
In April, news broke that the federal government began investigating the more than $20 million contract the district entered into with SUPES Academy, a Wilmette company that provides principal training and the former employer of Byrd-Bennett. By the end of the month, the district suspended the contract with SUPES and Byrd-Bennett went on a leave of absence as the district wrestled with a number of subpoenas from the federal government.
Two others were indicted along side Byrd-Bennett, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, co-owners of SUPES Academy. The business, which is a subsidiary of Synesi Associates, LLC, and its parent company were also named as a defendants in the 43- page indictment that lays out an intricate kickback scheme for the multimillion dollar no-bid contract.
In return for helping SUPES secure the $20 million contract and Synesi nab additional CPS contracts, Byrd-Bennett was set to receive a lucrative job with the company upon her retirement from CPS along with $250,000 for two family members in Ohio, who are reportedly thought to be her twin grandsons, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The former schools chief also received professional sports tickets, expensive meals, jobs for her friends, and reimbursement for a CPS holiday party for which she paid.
"Graft and corruption in our city's public school system tears at the fabric of a vital resource for the children of Chicago," U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said in a statement. "School officials and city vendors who abuse the public trust will be held accountable."
Byrd-Bennett was charged with 15 counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud, while Solomon, 47, was hit with 15 counts of mail fraud, two counts of bribery, five counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Vranas, 34, is facing 15 counts of mail fraud, two counts of bribery, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.The companies, SUPES and Synesi, have been charged as corporate defendants with each being saddled with 15 counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud.
Byrd-Bennett, 66, was tapped by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to run CPS in 2012 and led the district during the controversial and unprecedented closure of 50 schools in one academic year.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis released a statement in response to the news.
"The circumstances surrounding the indictment of the former CEO are unfortunate and mark a sad day for the leadership of our district," Lewis said. "While we wish Mrs. Byrd-Bennett well in her legal battles, the Chicago Teachers Union remains fully and unequivocally committed to securing a fair contract for our members and ensuring their ability to properly serve the public school students and families in the city of Chicago."
UPDATE 1 (2:28 p.m.): Byrd-Bennett, who was paid a $250,000 salary plus benefits as CPS CEO, will plead guilty to the bribery and corruption charges. She is cooperating with federal prosecutors, according to Fardon.
The full indictment can be read here.
UPDATE 2 (2:43 p.m.): Emanuel released the following statement in response to the corruption scandal:
I am saddened and disappointed to learn about the criminal activity that led to today's indictment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Our students, parents, teachers and principals deserve better. Together, we have made significant educational strides at CPS with rising graduation rates, test scores and attendance and our commitment to building on that progress remains as strong as ever.
UPDATE 3 (3:06 p.m.): Action Now Executive Director Katelyn Johnson also issued a reaction to the news, slamming the mayor's choices of appointees and calling for an elected school board:
Today's indictment and forthcoming guilty plea of the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett is another sad reminder of the Board of Education's history of corruption and failure.
In February 89% of voters indicted the entire school board by calling for an Elected Representative School Board. The board is just as culpable in Byrd-Bennett's defrauding of Chicago's children as she is, they are all guilty and need to cease their failed leadership. The community has made this demand and will take control of Chicago's school system.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked appointees have typically come from investment firms, business backgrounds or worked in the legal profession. They have proven themselves to be incapable of running the financial business of CPS, and have been largely unqualified to address the educational needs of students. Shareholders of a publicly traded company would not allow a board to remain in control with a similar history. The community, the shareholders of CPS who have lost the most from their investments, refuse to allow mayoral appointments of criminals and cronies to remain in leadership. We are taking over Chicago' Board of Education in order to protect the interests of Chicago's public school children. We are shutting their show down and demanding an elected school board now!