CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - The mastermind of a CPS contract-rigging scheme captured in detailed emails with the schools chief admitted his role Tuesday in the SUPES scandal that could send him to prison with the others, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
Gary Solomon, 48, becomes the third person convicted in the plot that steered $23 million in no-bid deals from the broke school district to his principal training firm with documented help from his former employee, Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Solomon pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of honest services wire fraud in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 24. An attorney also entered a guilty plea on behalf of Solomon’s defunct companies, The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Associates, LLC.
He also must pay $254,000 in restitution.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Solomon said he had been feeling “a bit of anxiety” since shortly before charges were filed last October. He’s on medication for anxiety and to help him sleep, he told Chang.
After the hearing, Solomon and his attorneys walked by the assembled media in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building without stopping to comment.
Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second schools chief, pleaded guilty first, a year ago, agreeing to a reduced sentence of about seven years in exchange for her continued cooperation in the case. Ousted from CPS in April 2015 days after federal subpoenas landed at the school district, Byrd-Bennett, 67, has returned to her home in suburban Cleveland to await her sentencing.
That hearing will likely be scheduled when her attorney returns to court next week.
The former schools chief allegedly intended to use some of her proceeds — up to 10 percent of business she was able to steer to her former employers — to pay for her young twin grandsons’ college and other future plans.
“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:” she said in one of hundreds of emails revealed by the feds.
Thomas Vranas, 35, Solomon’s business partner and one-time student at Niles West High School, also pleaded guilty before Chang in April. His charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors said they’d recommend that sentence be knocked down by a third if he cooperates.
Vranas’ sentencing hearing will also likely be scheduled next week.
CPS sued the three defendants and their companies to try to recoup some of the millions paid out in the scheme. That lawsuit also is on hold, pending the outcome of sentencing.
“Recovering as much money as possible from those who have defrauded Chicago students remains a high priority for this administration, and today’s guilty plea brings us one step closer to a conclusion in this matter,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement issued after Solomon’s hearing. “We will continue to pursue those who have lined their own pockets at our children’s expense so that we can track down every possible dollar that Chicago students deserve. At the same time, we will continue to move forward with strengthened procurement and audit procedures that will prevent any such abuses in the future.”