Former CPS CEO pleads guilty to fraud


Lou Foglia

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett exits the Dirksen Federal Building following her Oct. 13 arraignment.

By McKayla Braid

Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in federal court Oct. 13. 

Originally indicted on 20 counts of fraud, Byrd-Bennett took a plea deal that dismissed the other 19 counts. Byrd-Bennett was arraigned at Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 27. 

Byrd-Bennett is accused of using her position within CPS to assign no-bid contracts totaling $23 million in exchange for $2.3 million in kickbacks, as reported Oct. 9 by the Chicago Tribune. 

Byrd-Bennett worked for SUPES Entities, owned and operated by Chief Executive Officer Gary Solomon and President Thomas Vranas, from the summer of 2011 through April 2012, according to the  indictment.                                            

Solomon and Vranas were arraigned Oct. 14, and pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of fraud, as reported Oct. 14 by the

Chicago Tribune. 

SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, collectively referred to in the indictment as SUPES Entities, offer professional development opportunities for school administrators and education consulting services. 

When Byrd-Bennett began working as a consultant for CPS in early May 2012, she began advocating to approve contracts with SUPES Entities in exchange for kickbacks, according to the indictment records.

“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit,” Byrd-Bennett said in an email, according to court documents. 

The indictment alleges that Byrd-Bennett, Solomon and Vranas hid their ongoing partnership from CPS and the Chicago Board of Education by creating a letter addressed to Byrd-Bennett falsely terminating her as of April 30, 2012. 

Byrd-Bennett said in an email to CPS employees she formally resigned from her position at SUPES Academy before  accepting her job at CPS and she received no financial benefit from the work between SUPES Academy and CPS. But SUPES Entities planned to disguise her payments as a signing bonus when she would ultimately return to work for  them down the line, according to court documents. 

“It is our assumption the distribution will serve as a signing bonus if you return to SUPES/Synesi,” Soloman told Byrd-Bennett in an email. “If you join us for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day.” 

Following her Oct. 14 arraignment, Byrd-Bennett apologized to the children, their families and educators involved with CPS. 

“I am terribly sorry, and I apologize to them. They deserved much more, much more than I gave to them,” she said after her arraignment.

Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said in an Oct. 13 statement:

“Today, Barbara Byrd-Bennett took responsibility for putting her own financial gain ahead of what was in the best interest of  the children she pledged to serve. This continues to be a matter for the courts. The Mayor and [CPS] leadership will continue to focus on our students, teachers and principals so we can continue the progress that is being made in classrooms across the City and enact further safeguards to help prevent this type of abuse from happening again.” 

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher for CPS, said the indictment did not surprise her and she is expecting it to be the first of many.

“I’m also interested in seeing Rahm Emanuel indicted,” Chambers said. “He is supposed to oversee the Board of Education, so if something doesn’t seem right on how [the board is] voting or who they are doing business with, he should stop them.” 

Chambers said the Byrd-Bennett case is one example of why many advocate for an elected school board. She said residents could help further the advancement of this goal by contacting their representatives

in Springfield.

“[Without an elected school board], I think we will continue to see more corruption [and] more votes in the interest of corporations or the private sectors that [are] not in the interest of our students,” Chambers said.