The former CEO of Chicago public schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to charges of participating in a kickback in exchange for a $23 million contract for SUPES Academy, her former employer.
Prosecutors recommended a reduced sentence of 7 1/2 years in prison in return for her cooperation. Her sentencing comes later.
Further down in the story, one reads that Mayor Rahm Emanuel concealed his knowledge of the deal. Even more interesting, Byrd-Bennett’s co-conspirator is a close ally of Rahm Emanuel. He recommended Emanuel’s first CEO, J.C. Brizard, then recommended Byrd-Bennett. Emanuel claimed that his administration asked “hard questions” about the no-bid contract before it was approved.
This story illustrates what is wrong about mayoral control: no checks or balances. A perfect set-up for corruption.
“A federal indictment unsealed Thursday accused Byrd-Bennett in a massive scheme with the co-owners of SUPES Academy, a company she worked for before joining CPS. The federal probe was revealed in April after CPS acknowledged receiving grand jury subpoenas seeking an array of documents on the SUPES contract. Soon after, Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence and then resigned in May.
“SUPES owners Gary Solomon, a consultant with ties to the Emanuel administration, and partner Thomas Vranas also were charged in the 23-count indictment, as was SUPES and another education consulting company the two ran. Solomon and Vranas are scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Wednesday, records show.
“The heart of the indictment involved more than $23 million in no-bid contracts awarded to SUPES to train CPS principals and other administrators beginning in 2012. A CPS committee set up to evaluate no-bid contracts initially balked at awarding SUPES a noncompetitive deal but less than a month later approved the plan, records show.
“According to the charges, Solomon agreed to kick back 10 percent of the total value of any contracts awarded to SUPES while Byrd-Bennett held the No. 2 post with CPS. She was later elevated by Emanuel to CEO.
“Much of the indictment centers on emails sent between Solomon and Byrd-Bennett that seem to make no effort to conceal the alleged kickback scheme. In one message, Byrd-Bennett even implied she needed cash because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit,” according to the charges.
“In a December 2012 message, Solomon assured Byrd-Bennett that trust accounts had been set up in the names of two of her young relatives — identified by sources as twin grandsons — and that they would be funded with a combined $254,000 as a “signing bonus” for her help in obtaining the contracts.
“The cash would be hers once she stepped down from her public post and rejoined his firm, Solomon wrote in the email….
“While Byrd-Bennett became the public face of the scandal, the Tribune has reported previously that Solomon’s ties to the Emanuel administration go back to the beginning of Emanuel’s tenure in office, predating the arrival of Byrd-Bennett. In fact, Solomon helped recruit Emanuel’s first schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, at the request of the mayor-elect’s transition team in February 2011.
“Solomon went on to recommend Byrd-Bennett, who was the lead trainer at SUPES when CPS hired her as chief education officer in April 2012.
“Emanuel and his aides have maintained that the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the SUPES contract. When asked in April if his administration had any role at all in the SUPES contract, Emanuel told reporters, “No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And so the answer to that is no.”
“On Monday, Emanuel acknowledged for the first time that his office had prior knowledge of the deal, saying his staff “asked some very hard questions” about the no-bid contract before the Chicago school board approved it.
“The comments came on the same day the Tribune reported the mayor’s office was more involved in the $20.5 million contract than previously disclosed and was fighting the release of public records that could shed more light on how the deal came to be.
“As part of that fight, the Tribune in June sued the city under the state Freedom of Information Act after the mayor’s office redacted or withheld about two dozen emails emanating from Emanuel’s office.
“While much of the picture remains missing, the email logs and documents the administration did release show frequent communication among key Emanuel aides, Chicago school leaders and the heads of the SUPES Academy consulting firm in the months, weeks and days leading up to Emanuel’s hand-picked school board awarding the contract.”
We are left to wonder: What did Mayor Emanuel know and when did he know it?
An afterthought: I served on two different boards with Barbara BB. I thought she was smart and honorable person. I liked her. I am sad for her. She swam with sharks, and she lost her moral center. Very sad.