After leading the third-largest urban public schooling system in the nation for three years, Barbara Byrd-Bennett shocked associates when she unexpectedly took a leave in April 2015. On Tuesday afternoon, Bennett pleaded guilty to fraud.
As part of a plea deal negotiated with federal prosecutors, Bennett entered a guilty plea to one count of fraud and the remaining 19 fraud charges, 15 counts of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud, were dropped contingent on her cooperation with the federal probe.
The U.S. Attorney alleges beginning in 2012 Bennett accepted bribes and other inducements in the amount of $2.3 million to direct no-bid contracts worth $23 million to education consulting firms with which she had been previously employed.
Federal prosecutors produced an indictment sheet which detailed a haul of e-mails between Bennett and Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, owners of SUPES and Synesi Associates LLC, and both of whom were named in the indictment.
One e-mail from Bennett, which described her anticipated kickbacks in exchange for steering city contracts to SUPES and Synesi Associates, read: “I’ve got tuition to pay and casinos to visit.”
Bennett is expected to serve a seven-and-a-half-year sentence.
After the arraignment hearing concluded, Bennett exited the courtroom, met briefly with reporters and apologized for her actions.
“I’m terribly sorry and I apologize to them. They (parents and students) deserve much more than I gave them,” she said.
You bet they deserve more than what you took from them.
Presiding over a schooling system which included 675 schools, 400,000 students, and an annual budget exceeding $6 billion, Ms. Bennett evidently couldn’t sustain on an annual $250,000-a-year income funded by the public.
Lured by former employers seeking disproportionate influence, Ms. Bennett’s better judgement was overwhelmed by what appeared at first to be kindness but was a clear financial motive to curry favor.
Once she achieved a position to assume the levers of power, the attraction of easy money and largesse to manipulate city contracts engulfed her and clouded order and reason.
Instead of a principled refusal to engage in corruption, Bennett proved being in public service and not serving the public sometimes amount to the same thing.
Bennett will now pay for her failures.
[ABCNews] [Photo courtesy ABClocal.go]