Former Chicago schools CEO pleads guilty to fraud

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Bennett, 66, of Solon, Ohio faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as mandatory restitution and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain resulting from her offense.

However, Byrd-Bennett’s plea agreement indicates an anticipated sentencing range of 135 to 168 months imprisonment, or roughly 11 to 14 years.

In the plea agreement, Byrd-Bennett also agrees to cooperate with the government.

If she does fully cooperate, the government agrees to recommend a sentence at 66 percent of the low end of the applicable federal sentencing guidelines. That would yield of a sentence of about 7 years.

Decision on a sentence remains solely with the court.

A sentencing date remains to be set. Judge Edmond Chang scheduled a status hearing for 9 a.m. Jan. 27, 2016.

Byrd-Bennett was originally indicted on 23 counts alleging corruption.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said Byrd-Bennett used her position as head of the Chicago public school system to steer lucrative, no-bid contracts to her former employer in exchange for bribes or kickbacks.

In her plea agreement, Byrd-Bennett admits steering such contracts worth more than $23 million to two firms, SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC.

Byrd-Bennett was the chief executive for Chicago Public Schools from from October 2012 to June 2015. She also once led the Cleveland public schools system and had worked for SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates as a consultant.

The Wilmette-based SUPES and the Evanston-based Synesi are also charged, as are their respective former owners, Gary Solomon 47, of Wilmette, and Thomas Vranas, 34, of Glenview.

The four co-defendants are scheduled for an arraignment at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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