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Former Chicago Schools Chief To Plead Guilty In $2.3 Million Kickback Scheme


The former head of public schools in the city of Chicago is facing federal corruption charges. She allegedly steered 23 million dollars' worth of school district contracts to her former employer. She is expected to plead guilty in federal court today. Becky Vevea from member station WBEZ explains.

BECKY VEVEA, BYLINE: Barbara Byrd-Bennett was working as a consultant in 2012 when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped her to lead the nation's third-largest school district. One company she worked for, SUPES Academy, specialized in training and mentoring school leaders. But instead of severing ties with that previous employer, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon says Byrd-Bennett devised a plan to secretly profit from the school system.


ZACHARY FARDON: As part of that scheme, they agreed that Byrd-Bennett would receive 10 percent of the value of all CPS contracts awarded to SUPES.

VEVEA: Over email, the owners of SUPES Academy, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, agreed to hide the money in two trust funds in the names of Byrd-Bennett's relatives. One email from Byrd Bennett to Solomon brazenly states, quote, "I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit. (:" Another email from Solomon to Byrd-Bennett explained how the money would be paid out as a signing bonus when she came back to the company. He wrote, quote, "if you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day." Again, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon.


FARDON: I think those emails reflect greed. I think they reflect a public official who compromised her integrity and the integrity of her professional responsibility by looking to line her own pockets.

VEVEA: Now Byrd-Bennett and the two owners of SUPES Academy are being charged with multiple counts of mail and wire fraud. The largest contract the district awarded the Academy was worth more than $20 million. It was for training school officials, and it was unanimously approved without a bidding process just one month after Chicago shut down 50 public schools to save money. In April, a grand jury subpoenaed the school district for records related to SUPES Academy, Byrd-Bennett and a few of her closest aides. After that, Mayor Emanuel and his hand-picked school board tried to distance themselves from the scandal. Responding Monday to the indictment, Emanuel said...


RAHM EMANUEL: I don't get involved in contracts. When a mayor gets involved in contracts, you have a problem.

VEVEA: The mayor has hired a new head of the Chicago Public Schools and replaced 5 of the 7 board members. The contract with the now-defunct SUPES Academy was suspended earlier this year. For NPR News, I'm Becky Vevea in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 14, 2015 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous headline may have been interpreted as meaning that the amount of the kickback received was $23 million. That figure is actually the amount of the contracts; the kickback was $2.3 million.