Ex-CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times
While working for Catalyst Chicago, BGA senior reporter Sarah Karp uncovered issues with a no-bid contract’s connection to the board’s CEO. Here’s her report following Thursday’s federal indictments:
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was charged by federal officials Thursday for allegedly taking bribes and kickbacks in exchange for pushing the district to award contracts to her former employer.
Bennett is accused in a 23-count indictment of diverting more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to The SUPES Academy of Wilmette and Synesi Associates of Evanston. In return, Byrd-Bennett expected hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, federal prosecutors allege. The companies, which train school principals and administrators, and their former owners Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas also were charged Thursday with multiple counts of fraud.
The indictment follows an earlier investigation by former CPS Inspector General Jim Sullivan, which was spurred by an article that I wrote for Catalyst-Chicago in 2013.
That Catalyst story followed a $20.5 million no-bid CPS contract awarded to SUPES to offer professional development to district principals, an agreement that raised red flags.
After covering CPS for almost a decade, I knew it was unheard of for the district to award a no-bid contract of that magnitude, especially for something that other organizations are able to handle. It was suspicious for SUPES, a small company not well known to education experts in the city to be awarded such a large contract.
I discovered Byrd-Bennett had worked for the company as a consultant. What’s more, there was evidence that she was still working for another Solomon and Vranas company after she took a position with CPS.
In an interview with me in December of 2013, Byrd-Bennett denied to me that there was any overlap.
Fast forward: On April 15, federal agents raided CPS headquarters. Two days later, Byrd-Bennett went on leave and in late May she resigned.
At a press conference Thursday, Zachary Fardon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said Byrd-Bennett was cooperating with the investigation and he expects her to plead guilty.
From the Huffington Post Politics: How This Reporter Uncovered A Corruption Scandal Everyone Missed
Sarah Karp asked other journalists to follow up on her work, but they didn’t take her up on it.