Appropriately, Mayor Emanuel’s name isn’t mentioned in the 43-page indictment on bribery charges handed down today by the feds against Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was hired by the mayor to run the Chicago Public Schools.
It’s appropriate because, as near as I can tell, the main reason Emanuel hired Byrd-Bennett was to be the sympathetic public face—thus shielding him for blame—for the cuts, closings, testing policies, and other bad things he was doing to the schools.
Not the least of which was hiring Byrd-Bennett to run them.
I urge every citizen of Chicago to read the indictment. But in case you’re too busy, I’ll give you a few lovely details.
For almost a year before Mayor Emanuel hired her as CEO—I did mention that she was hired by Rahm, right?—Byrd-Bennett was a “paid consultant” for the Supes Academy.
That’s an educational consulting firm in Wilmette run by two guys named Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas.
The central accusation is that Byrd-Bennett used her influence at CPS to squeeze about $24 million worth of contracts from a broke-ass public school system whose leaders—Mayor Emanuel chief among them—constantly told the public it didn’t have a dime to spare.
So stop asking for more money for things like toilet paper and janitors and books.
And you wonder why so many Chicagoans don’t believe CPS is really broke.
According to the feds, “Byrd-Bennett steered no-bid contracts worth more than $23 million” to Supes “in exchange for an expectation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”
Moreover, Supes “agreed to conceal the kickback money by funneling it into accounts set up in the names of two of Byrd-Bennett’s relatives.”
Furthermore, “a later agreement called for the funds to be paid to Byrd-Bennett in the form of a ‘signing bonus’ after her employment with CPS ended and the companies re-hired her as a consultant.”
And Supes “provided Byrd-Bennett with numerous other benefits, including meals, an airplane ticket, and seats at basketball and baseball games.”
“Byrd-Bennett also expected to receive reimbursement from [Supes] for costs associated with a holiday party she hosted for CPS personnel,” the indictment reads.
Wait, there’s more! “In the late summer or early fall of 2013, Solomon informed Byrd-Bennett that [CPS] wanted to review Solomon’s and Vranas’s emails. Solomon said Vranas planned to use a computer program to delete the emails, and he told Byrd-Bennett to delete her emails as well.”
The feds base these accusation on a series of e-mails between Solomon and Vranas and Byrd-Bennett. Like this one, sent from Solomon to Byrd-Bennett on April 29, 2012: “When this stint at CPS is done and you are ready to re re re retire, we have your spot waiting for you. Hopefully, with even more work and more opt.”
And this one, sent by Byrd-Bennett to Solomon on June 15, 2012: “I will work hard to get this and expanded work.”
And this one sent by Solomon to Byrd-Bennett on December 6, 2012: “Like we have discussed, we have created accounts that, upon withdrawal, we will pay down the taxes and distribute. You can distribute to [Relative A and Relative B] as you deem appropriate. It is our assumption that the distribution will serve as a signing bonus upon your return to Supes. If you only join for the day, you will be the highest paid person on the planet for that day.”
That’s about all of the federal indictment I can stomach for the moment.
In June 2013, the Chicago Board of Education—also appointed by the mayor—awarded Supes a no-bid $20.5 million principal-training contract. Supes’s job was to put together principal-training sessions. From what principals tell me, these sessions largely consisted of forcing principals—who had better things to do—to sit in a room and listen to war stories told by various windbags who’d been flown in from other cities. And you wonder why so many principals detest Mayor Emanuel’s educational policies.
In defense of Byrd-Bennett, I believe she did a more or less credible job being the public face for the mayor’s most controversial policies. If you recall, it was Byrd-Bennett, not the mayor, who broke the news in 2013 that Rahm was closing 50 or so schools.
The mayor was on vacation—skiing in Utah—when Byrd-Bennett made that announcement.
In appreciation, I think the least Mayor Emanuel can do is bake Byrd-Bennett a cake should she wind up in prison.