Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Chicago School Head Readies Her Guilty Plea To $24 million Malfeasance

By Gary Snyder

The previous head of Chicago Public Schools, a Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee, was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, was the subject of a federal indictment for bribery recently announced. She allegedly steered more than $23 million in no-bid CPS contracts to SUPES Academy (with an affiliate called Synesi Associates) “in exchange for an expectation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks,” according to the indictment. The kickback money went to accounts in the names of Byrd-Bennett’s relatives, but a later modification to the scheme had the kickback funds structured to be paid to Byrd-Bennett directly as a “signing bonus” on her return to employment at SUPES after leaving CPS.

At one point, she emailed SUPES owner Gary Solomon that she needed the money because she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit.” According to the Chicago Tribune, Solomon has been a longtime advisor and consultant to Mayor Emanuel himself. 

This touches the upper echelons of state and national leadership. The investigation of SUPES also led to a federal subpoena for records from the Chicago Public Education Fund, which in 2011 made a $380,000 grant to SUPES for a pilot program of training for “CPS network chiefs and their deputies.” Now that SUPES has morphed from investigation target to indicted co-conspirator, the CPEF seed grant to SUPES takes on a new role, given Solomon’s connection with both Byrd-Bennett and the mayor himself. 

Among the CPEF board members are Governor Bruce Rauner, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Barbara Malott Kizziah of the Malott Family Foundation, Helen Zell of the Zell Family Foundation, and Elizabeth Swanson of the Joyce Foundation, along with a host of bankers, investors, and others. Swanson was chief of staff for education under Emanuel before joining Joyce, the Zell Family Foundation is the philanthropic arm of billionaire real estate developer Sam Zell who is close to the Mayor and a funder of his PAC, and the Malott family is widely connected to many mainstream Chicago institutions.

In Cleveland when she was in charge of the Cleveland public schools, Byrd-Bennett was president of the Barbara Byrd-Bennett Foundation for Cleveland’s Children, which had its 501(c)(3) status revoked by the IRS in 2011 for failing to submit 990s (the last one was from 2005). 

Byrd-Bennett has served on numerous prestigious boards---nationally, in Illinois and in Ohio.

She generously rewarded herself and her business associates from the assets of a public school district that is in financially disastrous shape. (rick cohen, nonprofitquarterly)h (chicagoreader.com)

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