CHICAGO (CBS) — Pedro Soto, the onetime top aide to Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about whether he gave confidential inside information to a lobbyist working for a company seeking a custodial contract worth more than $1 billion.
Soto resigned as Jackson’s chief of staff last month, just days before he was charged.
Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Soto admitted lying to the FBI during an interview in December 2019, as agents were investigating his interactions with a lobbyist seeking a cleaning contract with the district in 2016.
Soto, 45, acknowledged lying to the feds about providing “non-public information” to an unnamed person – identified in court documents only as Individual B – who worked for a lobbyist for an unnamed Company A, which was seeking a CPS custodial services contract in July 2016. According to court documents, the contract was worth more than $1 billion.
Soto was on the evaluation committee for the contract, and federal prosecutors said the FBI launched an investigation into Individual B’s interactions with Soto regarding the contract, including any “nonpublic information” Soto provided regarding CPS’s contract deliberations, the merit of Company A’s and other bidders’ proposals, and any benefits Soto was offered or received.
Soto is accused of lying to the FBI when he was asked if he ever spoke with Individual B on the phone regarding “what was going on inside CPS about the custodial services contract” and told agents, “He would want to get information, but I don’t think I gave him anything.”
Federal prosecutors say Soto also lied when asked how Individual B would “dig” for information on the custodial services contract and said he would “just listen” to Individual B, but was not persuaded to do anything; and also when asked if he gave Individual B inside information on the contract bids, and said, “I don’t think that I have, no. I would-I don’t think so.”
At the time of the contract bid, Soto was CPS chief of operations, paid $150,000 a year. He was later promoted to Jackson’s chief of staff, paid $175,000 a year before he resigned last month.
He faces up to six months in jail under federal sentencing guidelines, according to court documents. A sentencing date has not yet been set, but a status hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 10.
In a statement about the charges against Soto, Jackson told CPS staff the company involved in the case was not awarded any contracts. However, she called Soto’s actions “deeply disappointing.”
“Mr. Soto’s alleged conduct represents a stunning betrayal of trust and an immense failure of judgement and character. There is no place in our school district for anyone who would engage in these activities, and we are moving forward without him,” Jackson wrote.
The charges against Soto came just two months after former CPS chief executive officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett was transferred out of federal prison and placed on home confinement to complete her prison sentence for steering more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from CPS to her former employer, SUPES Academy, in exchange for $2.3 million in kickbacks.
Byrd-Bennett resigned as the head of CPS in 2015, and her permanent successor, Forrest Claypool, resigned in 2017 after the district’s inspector general accused him of a “full-blown cover-up” during an ethics investigation of the top CPS attorney at the time. Jackson replaced Claypool.