October 8, 2015 / 6:13 PM / 3 years ago

Former head of Chicago schools will plead guilty in bribery scheme: lawyer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The former chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, plans to plead guilty to charges of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks for helping her former employers win lucrative contracts, her lawyer said on Thursday.

Byrd-Bennett, 66, resigned in June amid a federal probe into the $20.5 million no-bid contract the cash-strapped district had awarded to her previous employer, educational consulting firm SUPES Academy.

The district for the country’s third-largest city has had five chief executives in four years and is making drastic spending cuts this year as it faces a potential $1.1 billion deficit.

A 43-page federal indictment made public on Thursday includes criminal charges against Byrd-Bennett and against SUPES, the related firm Synesi Associates, and the companies’ owners. The indictment involves more than $23 million in contracts.

Byrd-Bennett will plead guilty, her lawyer Michael Scudder said in a statement.

“As part of accepting full responsibility for her conduct, she will continue to cooperate with the government, including testifying truthfully if called upon to do so,” he said.

She is charged with 15 counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud. The other indicted parties also face bribery and conspiracy charges.

Each count of mail and wire fraud is punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, mandatory restitution and a maximum fine of $250,000, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said.

But he said he did not know at this time how long Byrd-Bennett would serve under a plea agreement.

Representatives for SUPES and Synesi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The indictment said Byrd-Bennett accepted bribes such as tickets to professional sports games and funds for a holiday party for school employees.

It accused Byrd-Bennett of lying to Chicago Board of Education officials about financial compensation from SUPES and Synesi when she maintained an interest in the companies through a secret consulting agreement.

According to the indictment, the agreement promised to pay her a percentage of the proceeds from the contracts she helped to procure.

SUPES was paid to train principals and administrators.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Byrd-Bennett to head the district which serves 400,000 students in 660 schools in 2012, after the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in 25 years. The SUPES contract began in 2013.

Additional reporting and writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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