Disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett landed in prison for steering $22.5 million in no-bid deals to her friends — but her wrongdoing was much worse, a new report concludes.
CPS’s inspector general says in his annual report, released Wednesday, that Byrd-Bennett orchestrated schemes that resulted in another $10.1 million in public school contracts going to her friends’ companies.
The findings come six years after the schools chief former whom Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose and affectionately called “B3” abruptly resigned.
Byrd-Bennett, 71, got out of prison in early May after serving nearly three years of her 4 1/2 -year sentence in a low-security facility thanks to a federal policy aimed at sparing nonviolent offenders from the coronavirus.
In 2013, Byrd-Bennett helped steer an eye-catching $20 million contract for principal training to a company that had employed her before she worked at CPS and which promised to take her back after she left the Chicago school system.
That same year, CPS Inspector General Will Fletcher now says, Byrd-Bennett also made sure that two more friends landed $6.3 million in a separate training contract with professional development firm Knowledge Delivery System, a company she had ties with in Detroit.
After a year of work at KDS, the two unnamed friends left the company in a tiff to start their own firm along with a CPS aide they hired as their general counsel. Byrd-Bennett tried to move the work along with them to the new company without approval from the Chicago Board of Education, but CPS’s top lawyer stopped her. Instead, she bought $25,000 worth of their services, the maximum she could dole out without higher approval, according to the report.
After that attempt failed, Byrd-Bennett refocused her efforts on steering another $3.8 million contract to a third company — identified in the report as “Company 3” — then pressured that firm to take on her two friends as subcontractors, investigators found.
Just like the companies that offered Byrd-Bennett the kickbacks that landed her and their owners in prison — and led to her emailed quip, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:” — an executive at that third company wined and dined her at the tony Pump Room in exchange for insider knowledge about bidding specifications, the report says.
CPS awarded “Company 3” that contract — and to this day does business with the firm — but the company never hired either friend for unrelated reasons. CPS has appointed an independent monitor, at the inspector general’s recommendation, to audit the district’s relationship with the company.
It was not clear why the inspector general’s findings did not come to light before and weren’t a part of Byrd-Bennett’s criminal indictment.
Since Byrd-Bennett’s tearful apology and guilty plea in October 2015, the inspector general also has found that Byrd-Bennett helped rig another bid for services by the for-profit Camelot Education, one of CPS’ alternative-schools providers.