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Byrd-Bennett co-defendants in plea talks: lawyers

Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s co-defendants are in plea talks with federal prosecutors over an alleged kickback scheme involving no-bid contracts with Chicago Public Schools, their lawyers said Thursday.

Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas did not appear in court, but at a status hearing in the case, their attorneys revealed the conversations to U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang.

Defense lawyers Anthony Masciopinto and Jacqueline Jacobson also said they hope to deal with demands from the cash-strapped school district for reimbursement through the criminal case.

Solomon, 47, of Wilmette, and Thomas Vranas, 34, of Glenview, are charged with mail and wire fraud, bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States. They ran two businesses that landed more than $23 million in no-bid CPS contracts — SUPES, which trained district leaders, and Synesi, which helped improve troubled schools.

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in October to a single count of wire fraud, admitting to her role in steering those contracts to SUPES and Synesi in exchange for a 10 percent kickback she wanted, in part, to go into a college fund for her twin grandsons. A 43-page indictment revealed details of damning emails she swapped with Solomon and Vranas, beginning in 2012 before she even took the helm at the country’s third-largest school district.

Ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett apologized to students, parents and educators after she pleaded guilty in federal court in October. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times
Ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett apologized to students, parents and educators after she pleaded guilty in federal court in October. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool is now demanding payment from Byrd-Bennett, Solomon, Vranas and their companies, using a state law that allows government agencies to go after corrupt individuals or contracts to the tune of triple the amount paid to those criminals.