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CPS CEO’s ex-chief of staff pleads guilty to lying to feds

Pedro Soto admitted he gave “non-public” information to someone who offered him “various benefits” and worked with a registered lobbyist for a company that bid on a $1 billion contract.

When the FBI asked the Chicago Public Schools CEO’s chief of staff late last year whether he had once given inside information to someone tied to a company that bid on a $1 billion custodial contract, he denied it.

But Pedro Soto told a federal judge a different story Friday. He admitted that, on seven occasions in 2016 and early 2017, he gave “non-public” information to someone who offered him “various benefits” and worked with a registered lobbyist for that company.

Then Soto, 45, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Soto’s decision to lie to federal investigators cost him his job with CPS last month, when CEO Janice Jackson said she accepted his resignation. Now, it might also cost him his freedom, as he faces what would likely be a short stint behind bars of up to six months.

However, Soto’s plea agreement reveals that he is now the latest person caught up in a public corruption case to agree to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Assuming he follows through, the feds may recommend an even more lenient sentence.

Pedro Soto

Soto didn’t become Jackson’s chief of staff until 2017, when she was promoted to CEO. During the April 2016 bidding process for the custodial contract, Soto was a member of the evaluation committee that examined the bids under former CEO Forrest Claypool.

Though the feds have not named the company at issue, its registered lobbyist or the person who made contact with Soto, the case revolves around the expansion of the school system’s private management of cleaning and facilities services to all of its schools. Records show only one of the companies that bid, GCA Educational Services Central States Inc., disclosed a registered lobbyist.

That lobbyist, Ted Brunsvold, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The custodial management work was awarded to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, partly owned by former NBA star Magic Johnson, which divided most of the hundreds of school buildings by geographic zones.

In 2018, as CPS prepared for the last phase of privatization, school officials recommended awarding a $60.6 million three-year contract to GCA to manage 34 schools but yanked the measure during a Chicago Board of Education meeting hours before a vote to approve it.

CPS later said it killed the deal because GCA’s parent company had a poor track record of keeping janitors safe from sexual harassment and assault at work.

The FBI at some point became interested in Soto’s behind-the-scenes communications and interviewed him on Dec. 17, 2019. That’s when they say he denied sharing inside information. But his plea agreement reveals details that contradict those claims.

It said Soto called the person who worked with the company’s lobbyist on Aug. 10, 2016. Soto told him the evaluation committee expected the bidding companies to share details on staffing and community outreach during oral presentations. On Sept. 13, 2016, the day the company at issue made its presentation, Soto later called that person to tell him how it went.

Soto informed that individual that certain committee members were trying to “ice out” the company.

The phone calls continued with Soto on Oct. 7, 2016, again telling that person that committee members were trying to “push” the company out of the process. Soto shared inside information again by phone three days later. Then, on Oct. 22, 2016, Soto told him about internal discussions on the committee and how he disagreed with the decision to reject the company.

On Nov. 3, 2016, Soto informed the individual that the company had not even been discussed at a meeting about the custodial contracts. On Jan. 19, 2017, he relayed information that the schools might put out another request for proposals and told him the committee’s concern with the company’s earlier proposal.