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Barbara Byrd-Bennett Enters Federal Prison For Scheme To Defraud CPS

By Heather Cherone | August 25, 2017 5:33am | Updated on August 29, 2017 10:23am
 The Alderson, W. Va., federal prison also housed Martha Stewart and former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson.
The Alderson, W. Va., federal prison also housed Martha Stewart and former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson.
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Flickr/Aaron Bauer; inset DNAinfo file photo

CHICAGO — The moment of reckoning arrived Monday for former Chicago Public Schools boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett, convicted of trying to rip off Chicago students in a fraud scheme.

Byrd-Bennett, 67, whom her former boss Mayor Rahm Emanuel used to call "Triple-B," has begun serving her 4½-year prison sentence at the minimum-security federal prison camp in Alderson, W. Va., according to the prison's website.

It's the same prison where Martha Stewart did time for obstruction of justice in a stock scheme. At the time, writers dubbed it "Camp Cupcake," although Stewart said the prison was not soft.

Byrd-Bennett won't be the first person convicted of abusing Chicago taxpayers' trust — and wallets — to wear prison khaki at Camp Cupcake. Former 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson served about 10 months there in 2016 after being convicted of filing false income tax returns in a scheme to hide misspent campaign funds.

The 159-acre campus is nestled in scenic hills — and the inmates are allowed to wander the grounds, sunbathe, learn trades and even take yoga classes, a program Stewart reportedly started.

Business Insider once dubbed it "America's Cushiest Prison."

A former inmate there told Forbes that inmates have access to games, televisions and classes.

“They had a music room where you could take guitar lessons, a card-making class with paper and glitter, ceramics and leatherworking,” Vicki Webb, who spent 18 months at Alderson, told Forbes. “I taught crochet for a while. If you’re smart, you’ll realize how lucky you are to be at Alderson."

According to Business Insider, inmates can use email for 5 cents a minute. The women start out living in buildings with 125 inmates, but get moved to "cottages" with half as many if they behave.

In addition to housing Stewart in 2004, Alderson once housed Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the Charles Manson family member who was convicted of trying to kill President Gerald Ford in 1975. She escaped from Alderson, but was caught two days later.

Singer Billie Holliday served time there for drug possession in the 1940s.

Before he sentenced Byrd-Bennett, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang called her crime "egregious" and another example of public officials thinking they can get away with cheating the public.

Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to charges that she steered $23 million worth of contracts for principal training to her employer before Chicago Public Schools in return for kickbacks of cash, meals, tickets to sporting events and a job after she left CPS.

"I stand here at the most difficult moment of my life," Byrd-Bennett told Chang in April. "What I did was wrong. I am ashamed. ... I have no one to blame but myself. I am responsible.

"I hope and pray I can redeem myself," Byrd-Bennett told the judge.

The judge also ordered Byrd-Bennett to pay $102,000 in fines and restitution.