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Former Chicago schools CEO pleads guilty to corruption

By Tomas Monzon

CHICAGO, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Tuesday pleaded guilty to corruption charges linked to a kickback scheme.

Byrd-Bennett, 66, faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison for pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud. She was accused of directing more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to SUPES Academy to train principals and other administrators in CPS in exchange for a percentage of the deals.

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Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES prior to being named CPS CEO in 2012.

Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas from SUPES were also named in a 23-count indictment unsealed Thursday.

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The indictment says Solomon agreed to kick back up to 10 percent of the total value of the contracts, continuing to do so when Byrd-Bennett was named CEO by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Various email messages between Solomon and Byrd-Bennett reveal a scheme in which Byrd-Bennett pocketed the returned money. In one exchange, she said she needed cash because she had "tuition to pay and casinos to visit."

Solomon and Vranas allegedly attempted to cover up Byrd-Bennett's relationship with SUPES by falsifying a letter stating her relationship with the company ended April 30, 2012. The contracts continued to be awarded to SUPES despite Byrd-Bennett telling CPS administrators she had no connection to the company.

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Standing outside the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after her plea, Byrd-Bennett address school children and their families, saying she was "terribly sorry" and that "they deserve much more, much more than I gave to them."

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"There is nobody to blame but me, and my failings could not have come at a time of greater challenges for CPS," she said in a written statement. "The issues CPS faces are significant, and the city needs -- and the children deserve -- leaders who are working without conflicts of interest."

Her sentencing was postponed until charges against Solomon and Vranas from the 23-count indictment are resolved. The two are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

A 22-page plea agreement indicates prosecutors are seeking 7 1/2 years in prison for Byrd-Bennett, which is under the federal recommendation of 11 to 14 years.

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