Ex-CPS principal admits defrauding district of hundreds of thousands of dollars

The former principal of a North Side elementary school admitted Thursday to her role in a pair of fraud schemes that prosecutors say cost the Chicago Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sarah Jackson Abedelal, the onetime principal of Brennemann Elementary School, is one of six people charged so far with scamming CPS through phony overtime claims and bogus orders for ink, paper and other printer supplies.

Charged along with Abedelal are former Brennemann Elementary School business manager William Jackson and former Assistant Principal Jennifer McBride. Charged in a separate case are Ashley Beard, who worked as a business clerk at Caldwell Math and Science Academy, and Debra Bannack and Anthony Rasmussen, who worked for a CPS vendor.


Abedelal pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud. She faces a likely prison sentence of around three to five years. However, Abedelal is also cooperating with the feds in their investigation, a move that could land her a lower sentence. Her sentencing hearing has been postponed while her cooperation continues.

Abedelal teared up Thursday as she told U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis about the scheme during a hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

"I did … ask teachers to submit to me the fake overtime," Abedelal said.

Her scam took place before, during and after the highly publicized kickback scandal that led to the 2015 conviction and eventual imprisonment of former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to 4 1⁄2 years behind bars. A pair of consultants also went to prison as a result of that scandal.

Meanwhile, Abedelal’s tenure at Brennemann generated protests in 2014 from parents who accused her of an "iron fist" approach to discipline.

Prosecutors have alleged that Abedelal, McBride, Jackson and others had school employees claim overtime pay for hours they didn’t work and hand the extra money back to Abedelal and McBride. Abedelal told them it would be used to pay for legitimate school expenses.

Instead, the feds say Abedelal planned to put the money to her own, personal use.

Prosecutors even said that Abedelal and McBride arranged for CPS to fund a "fictitious summer school program" at Brennemann so McBride could receive overtime pay for hours she did not work.

Abedelal and another school business manager entered McBride’s employee ID into a timekeeping system to make it look like McBride had worked the fictitious summer-school program. The feds say McBride falsely certified she worked 40 hours a week in the made-up program in July and August 2017.

After a visit by investigators from the CPS Office of Inspector General in March 2019, McBride allegedly told an employee to lie about having worked overtime hours. McBride also allegedly told Abedelal to buy a "burner" phone.

McBride and Jackson have pleaded not guilty. So have Beard, Bannack and Rasmussen.

The other scheme involved fake purchase orders and invoices for office and school supplies that really steered iPhones, iPads and thousands of dollars in gift cards Abedelal’s way, according to prosecutors.