Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former Chicago Public Schools CEO, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal corruption charges.
The former school chief, who was accused of steering no-bid contracts toward her former company in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, pleaded guilty to one count of wire and mail fraud. Additional charges were dropped as a part of the plea deal.
The federal prosecutor said in court that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked CEO “engaged in a scheme to deprive her former employer, CPS, of honest services.”
Byrd-Bennett, 66, faces up to 20 years in prison and could be fined as much as $250,000. She is currently free on a $4,500 bond but Judge Edmond Chang ordered her not to leave the country and to surrender her passport.
Byrd-Bennett was indicted last week on charges that she granted over $23 million dollars worth of no-bid contracts to her former employers SUPES Academy and Synesi. In return she accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and benefits.
According to the indictment read in court on Tuesday, Byrd-Bennett was a paid consultant with the Chicago Executive Leadership Academy (CELO) and SUPES Academy. When she left to head CPS, she entered an agreement with the firms to be paid 10 percent of the value of the contracts she steered their way. The bribes were to be considered as a “signing bonus” to be paid after she left CPS.
Byrd-Bennett also received tickets to basketball and baseball games as well as free meals at restaurants and SUPES even reimbursed her for a party she threw for CPS employees.
The indictment, which was read in court, detailed e-mails exchanged between SUPES owner Gary Solomon and Byrd-Bennett, which did not even attempt to conceal the nature of the kickback scheme.
The Chicago Tribune reported that in one e-mail, Byrd-Bennett expressed her need for the bribes by explaining she “had tuition to pay and casinos to visit ;).”
Despite her arrangement, Byrd-Bennett assured CPS administrators she had no financial connection to SUPES as she pushed millions of dollars worth of contracts its way.
When word of the federal investigation broke in April, and Byrd-Bennett took a paid leave of absence; she resigned her position in May.
As a part of her plea bargain, Byrd-Bennett agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other SUPES officials involved in the scheme. SUPES owners Gary Solomon and partner Thomas Vranas also were charged in the 23-count indictment last week and have pleaded not guilty.
Her next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 27.