Ex-CPS principal admits defrauding Chicago school system out of hundreds of thousands of dollars

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

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The Chicago Public Schools offices

Former Brennemann Elementary School Principal Sarah Jackson Abedelal pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday.

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

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

Charged with Abedelal were former Brennemann business manager William Jackson and Jennifer McBride, a former assistant principal.

Charged in a separate case were Ashley Beard, who was 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 and faces a likely prison sentence of around three to five years.

But Abedelal is cooperating with the federal investigation, which could result in a lower sentence. Her sentencing has been postponed.

Abedelal teared up 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.

The scam took place before, during and after the kickback scandal that led to the 2015 conviction and eventual imprisonment of Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CPS chief executive officer.

Byrd-Bennett was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

Two CPS consultants she hired – Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas —also went to prison as a result of that scandal.

Abedelal’s tenure at Brennemann prompted protests in 2014 by parents who accused her of taking 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, authorities said.

Instead, Abedelal planned to put the money to her own personal use, according to prosecutors, who also said Abedelal and McBride arranged for CPS to fund a “fictitious summer school program” at Brennemann so McBride could get overtime pay for hours she didn’t work.

Abedelal and another school business manager entered McBride’s employee ID into a timekeeping system to make it appear that McBride had worked the fictitious summer-school program. Prosecutors said 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 inspector general’s office in March 2019, McBride told an employee to lie about having worked overtime hours and told Abedelal to buy a “burner” phone, authorities said.

McBride and Jackson have pleaded not guilty, as 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.

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