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Another key player in CPS’ Barbara Byrd-Bennett scandal gets to leave prison because of COVID-19

All three defendants in the kickback case that once left CPS reeling will be out of prison five years after they were charged in October 2015.

Gary Solomon leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in 2016.
Gary Solomon leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in 2016.
Sun-Times file

A key player in the scandal that brought down one of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked schools chiefs is set to leave prison three years early because of the coronavirus, court records show.

Gary Solomon, 52, will be moved to home confinement Sept. 22 after securing approval on Aug. 27, according to a report filed Monday by prosecutors and Solomon’s attorney. That approval followed a Bureau of Prisons review of inmates with COVID-19 risk factors.

The result of that decision is that all three defendants in the kickback scandal that once left the Chicago Public Schools reeling will be out of prison five years after they were charged in October 2015.

Officially, Solomon’s sentence still runs until October 2023, prison records show. After that, a judge also sentenced him to serve a year of supervised release.

But prosecutors asked a judge earlier this year to reduce Solomon’s seven-year prison sentence because of “substantial assistance” he’d provided to an investigation in Maryland. That investigation led to the conviction of Dallas Dance, once the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools, according to records filed by Solomon’s attorney, James Fieweger, in July.

Fieweger said Monday that Solomon still intends to pursue a further sentence reduction. Fieweger also called the decision to transfer Solomon to home confinement a “purely internal” move by the Bureau of Prisons. He declined to say where Solomon planned to serve his home confinement.

Records suggest that Solomon, who pocketed $5 million from the scheme, has two attractive options:

  • There’s a 2,700-square-foot stucco home in Wilmette that Solomon and his wife bought in 1997.
  • There’s also a spacious four-bedroom, three-fireplace lakehouse in Harbert, Michigan, yards from Lake Michigan, that the Solomons built and refinanced for $1.1 million in late 2013 — months after CPS awarded Solomon’s company a $20.5 million no-bid contract.

About a month before he was to report to prison in 2017, Solomon transferred ownership of the Harbert home, now estimated at $3.1 million, for $1 to The Luckkey Group, a company founded a few months earlier and registered to his Wilmette address, public records show.

Meanwhile, Solomon has been held at a minimum-security prison camp in Duluth, Minnesota.

Former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett left prison in May and moved to home confinement after the coronavirus cut short her time in prison. A judge had sentenced her to 4 ½ years behind bars.

A third defendant in the case, Solomon business partner Thomas Vranas, completed his 18-month sentence in 2018.

Byrd-Bennett steered $22 million in no-bid contracts to businesses run by Solomon and Vranas, a pair of consultants who had once employed her. In return, she expected to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks, quipping in one email that she had “tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:”.

She destroyed her career and never saw a dime.