The Chicago Public Schools have filed suit against CPS’ former CEO, who pleaded guilty to charges she accepted bribes and kickbacks in return for steering contracts to a group of consultants and others, and her alleged co-conspirators, saying Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the others associated with The SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates conspired to defraud taxpayers and “the schoolchildren of Chicago.”
CPS has demanded at least $65 million, combined, from all of the defendants named in the action.
The Chicago Board of Education brought its complaint March 10 against Bennett, SUPES and Synesi, and the organizations’ co-owners and operators, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas.
“In plain terms, defendants have stolen money from (CPS) and the schoolchildren of the city of Chicago, and that money should be returned,” the complaint said. “Instead, defendants have used and are continuing to use public funds fraudulently obtained from (CPS) to pay multiple law firms to defend them in their efforts to avoid the consequences of their wrongful conduct, to hire lawyers to insist that defendants’ ability to pay be kept secret from public scrutiny, and to provide sources of funds to pay criminal penalties as part of hoped-for concessions in plea agreements and sentencing.”
Byrd-Bennett resigned in June 2015 amid an investigation into the part she played in helping SUPES and Synesi land $23 million in no-bid CPS contracts to provide “education training” and other consulting services. She was indicted last fall on related corruption charges and pleaded guilty in October in federal court.
Vranas and Solomon have each been indicted on counts of wire and mail fraud. They have publicly indicated they are seeking plea deals with federal prosecutors.
According to the new CPS lawsuit, Byrd-Bennett, who before coming to CPS had worked for SUPES, had from the beginning of her time as CPS CEO in 2012 worked with SUPES and Synesi and their executives to ensure her former associates landed the lucrative CPS contracts. According to the complaint, Byrd-Bennett, who earned a salary of $250,000 per year as CPS’ chief executive, along with other perks, received bribes including sports tickets and “other gifts,” as well as promises of future employment with signing bonuses “worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Immediately, however, investigators revealed Byrd-Bennett received kickbacks, including a portion of the proceeds from the contract awards, as well as money for some of her relatives.
In addition to the kickback sums, CPS is demanding all of the more than $865,000 it paid to Byrd-Bennett as both a consultant and CEO from 2012-2015.
The 10-count complaint asked the court to award damages equal to three times the amount CPS said was obtained by fraud, or a combined sum of about $65 million.
CPS is represented in the action by its in-house attorneys, General Counsel Ronald L. Marmer and Assistant General Counsel Cynthia B. Harris.