The Chicago Board of Education is seeking $65 million in damages and penalties from former Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett and other co-defendants involved in a multimillion-dollar bribery scandal, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“In plain terms, Defendants have stolen money from Plaintiff and the schoolchildren of the City of Chicago, and that money should be returned,” the school board claimed in the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.
The SUPES Academy—the firm that won more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from the school board while Byrd-Bennett was superintendent—along with SUPES owner Gary Solomon and partner Thomas Vranas, was also named in the suit.
Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty back in October to a single count of federal wire fraud, for which she faces up to seven-and-a-half years in federal prison, the Tribune notes. According to the report, the former superintendent is currently cooperating with prosecutors, and her sentencing has been postponed pending the resolution of charges against Solomon and Vranas, who are accused of paying Byrd-Bennett up to $2.3 million in exchange for her help in winning the contracts.
In the lawsuit, Chicago Public Schools slammed the defendants for using and “continuing to use public funds fraudulently obtained from Plaintiff to pay multiple law firms to defend them in their efforts to avoid the consequences of their wrongful conduct, to hire lawyers to insist that Defendants’ ability to pay be kept secret from public scrutiny, and to provide sources of funds to pay criminal penalties as part of hoped-for concessions in plea agreements and sentencing.”
According to the Tribune, one point of contention in talks of a plea deal has been the district’s desire for restitution.
“The general proposition that you would take the contract value and times it by three seems extremely aggressive and inappropriate,” Anthony J. Masciopinto, Solomon’s defense attorney, said. “The CPS board approved these contracts; the services were provided and were paid for by my client.”
Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, however, said that the lawsuit was an effort to “fight for every dollar our children deserve.”
“Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her co-conspirators knew the District’s dire straits and still concocted this scheme to divert needed resources away from classrooms and line their own pockets. So today CPS took action in Cook County court to go after the $65 million in damages and civil penalties that our children are entitled to receive,” Claypool said in a statement about the lawsuit, the Tribune reports.
Read more at the Chicago Tribune.