Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to one fraud count in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in bribes.
Federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memo Friday that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett should go to prison for 7 1/2 years for taking part in kickback scheme with the owners of two training firms that received more than $20 million in no-bid contracts with the district.
"She sold her integrity and sold out the students of the Chicago Public Schools, and then she worked to enrich herself and her co-schemers at the expense of CPS, its students, its teachers, its administrators, and the City of Chicago," prosecutors said in their memo.
The recommended sentence from prosecutors was more than twice the 3 1/2 years defense attorneys asked the federal judge to consider for Byrd-Bennett in their sentencing memo. The defense filing acknowledged she was guilty of an "extraordinary breach of trust and the obligations she owed the city of Chicago and its public school children."
"Nothing we offer on Barbara’s behalf is intended to downplay her wrongdoing, misdirect the court’s focus, or encourage anything other than a fair sentence, which Barbara knows will and should result in incarceration," attorneys for the disgraced educator wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday.
Byrd-Bennett and former education consultant Thomas Vranas are scheduled to be sentenced April 28 at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for their roles in a bribery scandal that rocked the already shaky school district. Gary Solomon, cast by prosecutors as the "mastermind" of the plot to exchange kickbacks for no-bid contracts to his consulting firms, was sentenced last month to seven years in prison.
Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud in October 2015. The other two defendants also entered guilty pleas.
Prosecutors have alleged that Byrd-Bennett and her co-defendants manipulated CPS purchasing protocols to steer more than $20 million in no-bid contracts to firms co-owned by Solomon and Vranas.
"Within the City of Chicago, it is hard to conceive of an institution as important or serving a community as vulnerable as the Chicago Public Schools," prosecutors wrote in their memo. "Byrd-Bennett was hired to lead CPS, to start a new chapter in its efforts to educate Chicago’s students. Instead, hers is yet another story in the long history of corruption, graft, and greed in Chicago."
Attorneys for Byrd-Bennett, 68, said that the 3 1/2 years behind bars they are requesting meet the needs for "punishment and general deterrence." Byrd-Bennett’s attorneys also said that their client would perform community service that could include helping public school districts "adhere to complete integrity and transparency, particularly in procurement processes."
"What Barbara did was wrong on many levels — legal, moral, professional and personal — and her actions brought with them the hardest imaginable end to a career spent educating and bettering children, especially underrepresented children," her attorneys wrote.
"She knows all of this and is terribly sorry, overwhelmed by fear and shame, and prepared to accept the sentence the court determines is fair and warranted."
In a filing Thursday, Vranas’ attorneys asked a judge to consider a sentence of three years probation.