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Ex-Chicago Schools Chief Pleads Guilty in Federal Corruption Case

Former Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud in Chicago on Tuesday, stemming from a federal investigation that led to charges that she steered more than $23 million in contracts to a former employer in exchange for kickbacks and bribes.

Byrd-Bennett, who is 66, resigned from the school district in June, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fines, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. 

Byrd is cooperating with prosecutors. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors are expected to seek a 7/1 2 year sentence, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Barbara-byrd-bennett-blog.jpg

The Chicago Tribune reported that she apologized to the city's children and their families.

"I am terribly sorry, and I apologize to them," the paper quoted her as saying. "They deserve much more, much more than I gave to them."

In a statement, the former schools chief who was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, took full responsibility. 

"There is nobody to blame but me, and my failings could not have come at a time of greater challenges for CPS," the statement said.  "The issues CPS faces are significant, and the city needs—and the children deserve—leaders who are working without conflicts of interest." 

"I have devoted my entire professional life to public education and, while there is no excusing or downplaying my misconduct, I believe I have done a lot of good, including in Chicago," the statement continued. "Today, though, all I can say is that I am truly sorry and that it is time for the district and city to move forward."

Byrd-Bennett was indicted last week on bribery charges. In its indictment, federal prosecutors said that Byrd-Bennett steered contracts for principal training to The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates LLC.

In exchange, she was promised a consulting job at SUPES Academy after she retired from the Chicago school district, along with a "signing bonus."

Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant for SUPES Academy and Synesi before joining the district in 2012.

Byrd-Bennett also admitted that the companies provided her with other benefits, including meals and tickets to sporting events, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.  

The former owners of SUPES Academy and Synesi, Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, have also been charged as part of the probe. 

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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