The owner of two education-services companies admitted in federal court today that he offered bribes and kickbacks to former Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett in exchange for obtaining a $2.09 million contract to train principals.
Gary Solomon admitted in a written plea agreement that he offered bribes and kickbacks to then-CPS chief Byrd-Bennett in exchange for her efforts to steer the sole-source contract to Solomon’s companies, The SUPES Academy LLC and Synesi Asssociates LLC. Byrd-Bennett had previously worked for the companies, and her fraudulent arrangement with Solomon called for her to return there as a consultant upon leaving CPS, according to the plea agreement. Solomon maintained a line item within the companies’ internal financial statements to set aside the kickback money, which would be paid to Byrd-Bennett in the form of a one-time signing bonus on her first day back, the plea agreement states. Solomon told Byrd-Bennett in an email, “If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day. Regardless, it will be paid out on day one.”
In addition to arranging the kickbacks, Solomon also provided Byrd-Bennett with numerous other benefits, including meals and tickets to sporting events.
Solomon, 48, of Wilmette, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud. The conviction carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The Wilmette-based SUPES and Evanston-based Synesi also pleaded guilty today as corporate defendants to one count of honest services wire fraud. Each company faces a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greater. The government anticipates that the advisory guideline fine will be in the range of $3.2 million to $6.4 million.
In addition to potential prison terms and fines, the individual and corporate defendants also will be ordered to join in a restitution payment to CPS. The defendants and the government agree that the total amount of restitution is $254,000, minus any credit for funds repaid prior to sentencing.
A sentencing hearing for Solomon, SUPES and Synesi has been scheduled for March 24, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang.
The guilty pleas were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Michael J. Anderson, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Nicholas J. Schuler, Inspector General for the Chicago Public Schools.
All five defendants charged in the case have now been convicted. Byrd-Bennett, 67, of Solon, Ohio, pleaded guilty last year to one count of honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Thomas Vranas, a co-owner of SUPES and Synesi, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. Vranas, 35, of Glenview, faces up to five years in prison. A sentencing hearing for Byrd-Bennett and Vranas has not yet been scheduled.