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Ex-Chicago Schools CEO's Work in Detroit Faces Scrutiny

Days after ex-Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to defrauding the Chicago schools, her work in another urban district faces scrutiny.

Federal authorities alleged that Byrd-Bennett steered $23 million in no-bid contracts to two education firms, Synesi Associates and Supes Academy, in return for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks during her time with the Chicago schools.Barbara-byrd-bennett-blog.jpg

Now, The Detroit News reports that Synesi Associates, which trains principals and school administrators, was awarded contracts with the Detroit schools while Byrd-Bennett was working for the district from 2009-11, according to records posted on the school system's website.

Byrd-Bennett served as chief academic officer during her time in Detroit.

According to six-month expenditure reports from May and November 2011, the Detroit schools paid nearly $1.5 million to Synesi for "Consultant Services/Curriculum/Office of Accountability," the Detroit News reports.

A Detroit schools spokeswoman told the newspaper that the district is cooperating with authorities.

Synesi Associates and Supes Academy co-owners Gary Soloman and Thomas Vranas are accused of offering Byrd-Bennett money and other kickbacks in exchange for the Chicago contracts. Byrd-Bennett formerly worked for SUPES Academy, a training company.

Like Byrd-Bennett, Solomon and Vranas were charged last week in a 43-page indictment with multiple counts of wire fraud and mail fraud. They also face charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The men entered not guilty pleas this week in federal court.

Byrd-Bennett became chief education adviser for the Chicago schools in April 2012. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel named her CEO in the fall of that year. She resigned in June, weeks after the federal fraud investigation became public.

Photo Caption: Barbara Byrd-Bennett listens in during the monthly Chicago Public Schools board meeting in January, 2015. 
--Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS-File
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