CHICAGO — A key figure in the Barbara Byrd-Bennett corruption case pleaded guilty Tuesday to offering bribes to the former head of Chicago Public Schools.
Gary Solomon wrote in a plea agreement that he offered Byrd-Bennett cash and other freebies so she would steer a nearly $2.1 million contract to his companies, SUPES Academy and Synesi.
The plea offers a little more clarity to the scandal surrounding Byrd-Bennett, the disgraced educator who Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped to lead CPS after the 2012 teachers strike. Byrd-Bennett herself pleaded guilty to corruption charges shortly after leaving CPS last year, and now faces a $65 million lawsuit from the school system.
"Recovering as much money as possible from those who have defrauded Chicago students remains a high priority for this administration, and today’s guilty plea brings us one step closer to a conclusion in this matter," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue those who have lined their own pockets at our children’s expense so that we can track down every possible dollar that Chicago students deserve."
Lawyers representing Byrd-Bennett did not return a message seeking comment.
Byrd-Bennett once worked at SUPES and Synesi, which won the contract to train CPS principals. Solomon pleaded that he offered Byrd-Bennett cash as well as free meals, tickets to sporting events and even the promise of a consulting job at his company. The monetary kickbacks were to be paid to Byrd-Bennett as a signing bonus upon her return to the company, Solomon wrote.
“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," Solomon wrote Byrd-Bennett in an e-mail.
CPS alleged in its lawsuit that Byrd-Bennett steered "millions" in secret kickbacks and bribes to herself by delivering the contracts to SUPES, a leadership academy for principals and other educators. She infamously sent an email about her plans, saying she had "tuition to pay and casinos to visit."
The lawsuit alleged Byrd-Bennett steered $23 million in contracts and received nearly $870,000 in public funds through the fraud, which continued when she used public funds to pay her subsequent legal fees. The lawsuit is still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
Solomon — who pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud — is set to be sentenced in March, and has already been ordered to pay $254,000 back to CPS. He could face up to 20 years in prison.
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