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Thanks to reader Chiara for calling attention to this new development in Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Chicago public schools are suing former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the SUPES Academy, Synesi Associates, and Gary Solomon, who owns the companies named, for $65 million. Byrd-Bennett was convicted last year in a scheme to take kickbacks from the companies.
“In plain terms, Defendants have stolen money from Plaintiff and the schoolchildren of the City of Chicago, and that money should be returned,” the school board said in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.
Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty and faces up to 7 and 1/2 years in prison. The others are negotiating possible guilty pleas with federal prosecutors.
The federal indictment accused Solomon and Vranas of arranging to pay Byrd-Bennett as much as $2.3 million in kickbacks and other perks in exchange for her using her influence to award more than $23 million in no-bid contracts to SUPES Academy. Byrd-Bennett had previously worked as a consultant for SUPES.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool framed the lawsuit as an effort to “fight for every dollar our children deserve.”
The lawsuit hinges on Illinois law that entitles public entities defrauded by corrupt individuals and companies to three times the amount of what was “fraudulently obtained,” Claypool said.
That would include salary, pension contributions or other payments CPS made to Byrd-Bennett and her co-conspirators, Claypool said. As a consultant and as CEO for CPS, Byrd-Bennett received almost $870,000, according to the lawsuit. Solomon, Vranas, SUPES and another company, Synesi, were paid a total of $15.5 million, the lawsuit said.
Claypool said “there’s no guarantee whatsoever” that CPS would receive restitution as a result of the federal case against Byrd-Bennett and SUPES’ owners. But the state law “gives us a path to recover these dollars,” he said.
“These gentlemen have been in business a long time, all over the country. We’re entitled to discover assets, we have various legal tools available to us to track those assets and we will pursue every one of them,” Claypool said.
The link includes a link to the court papers.