Chicago Public Schools is seeking $65 million in damages and civil penalties from former schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the two men who owned the companies she steered millions to with the expectation of future kickbacks.
Byrd-Bennett pled guilty last fall to one count of wire fraud after federal authorities indicted her and two others in a kickback scheme involving $23 million in no-bid district contracts.
The district filed the civil complaint in Cook County Circuit Court today. It also names Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the two men who owned the companies that Byrd-Bennett steered contracts to — SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates. Byrd-Bennett was a consultant for SUPES before getting the top job at CPS. The scheme with Solomon and Vranas was that Byrd-Bennett would get a signing bonus worth 10 percent of the contract she steered to the companies when she retired from the district’s top job.
The current CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the district “is keeping a close watch on every dollar.”
“Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her co-conspirators knew the District’s dire straits and still concocted this scheme to divert needed resources away from classrooms and line their own pockets,” Claypool said in a statement. “With serious budget challenges facing the district, we’ll continue to fight for every dollar our children deserve.”
The complaint says Byrd-Bennett earned $869,162.58 while working for CPS as both a consultant and as CEO. Solomon, Vranas and their companies received $15,450,819.05 in public funds from CPS, the complaint says. The $20 million dollar, no-bid contract with the SUPES Academy was cancelled, after the federal indictment was made public.
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.