CHICAGO (CBS) — Federal prosecutors want a judge to send Gary Solomon, the mastermind of a brazen contract-steering scheme at Chicago Public Schools, to prison for nine years.
But Solomon claimed Wednesday that his accomplice, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, lied to the feds more than 29 times in an effort to save her own skin before their indictment. She immediately pleaded guilty afterward and is looking at closer to seven years in prison. Solomon says he deserves even less. His lawyers are arguing for no more than 18 months.
“By the end, Bennett had lied to federal agents some 29+ times, after which she had no choice but to ‘cooperate’ to avoid the fatal consequences of her unmitigated lying,” Solomon’s lawyers wrote in a court filing.
The feds charged Byrd-Bennett in October 2015 with mail fraud and wire fraud. In their own memo Wednesday, the feds acknowledged that Byrd-Bennett also lied to the FBI in April 2015 — they didn’t say how many times — but in the end they said “she cooperated first, and she cooperated fully.”
Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Church said Solomon was “untruthful” and “misled” the government. Church said Solomon should be sentenced to nine years in prison “to account for Solomon’s corruption and his lack of true remorse; to send a message to individuals and companies doing business with the Chicago Public Schools, the City of Chicago, and every other unit of state and local government.”
Solomon, 48, was the third person convicted in the plot to steer $23 million in no-bid deals to his firm from the cash-strapped CPS, with help from Byrd-Bennett, his former employee and the head of Chicago’s school district at the time. Solomon pleaded guilty last October to one count of honest services wire fraud, and he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison at his sentencing hearing, set for March 24.
Church argued that Solomon masterminded the scam. But Solomon lawyer Anthony Masciopinto tried to put the blame on Byrd-Bennett.
Masciopinto wrote that Byrd-Bennett “woefully failed to lie her way through a two to three hour FBI interview while agents searched her residence in April 2015.” For example, Byrd-Bennett allegedly said she never asked Solomon’s firm to set up a trust for her grandkids “because she was already making a hell of a lot of money.”
“With one misjudgment, Gary has suffered, and will endure a lifetime of, serious punishment which is devastating to him, his wife, his children, and extended family,” Masciopinto wrote.
Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second schools chief, pleaded guilty a year before Solomon, agreeing to a likely reduced sentence of about seven years in exchange for her continued cooperation with the feds. Ousted from CPS in April 2015, days after federal subpoenas landed at the school district, Byrd-Bennett gave a tearful apology to the children of Chicago before returning to her home in suburban Cleveland. Sentencing for the 67-year-old is set for April 13.
The former schools CEO planned to use kickbacks from Solomon — up to 10 percent of the business she was able to steer his way — to pay for her young twin grandsons’ college and other future plans.
“I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit (:” she said in one of hundreds of emails revealed by the feds.
Though he was the last to plead guilty, Solomon will be the first player in the scheme to face the music. Church has said that Solomon encouraged a reluctant Byrd-Bennett to join CPS in 2011, explaining “that it would be good for the SUPES entities . . . good for Byrd-Bennett, and good for CPS and the city.”
Solomon has no criminal background, but the Chicago Sun-Times has detailed his past of being forced out of Niles West High School for “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student; covered up student alcohol and drug use; and sent emails to vulnerable students that were “sexually suggestive” and used a slew of racist terms.
His plea deal hinges on an October 2012 $2 million contract, the first of three no-bid deals handed to SUPES, a company run by Solomon and business partner Thomas Vranas in Wilmette. But the contract that attracted the attention of the CPS inspector general was a $20.5 million no-bid deal for principal training that Byrd-Bennett inked a month after shuttering a record 50 schools.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)