Former schools boss accused of channelling contracts to friends

11 January 2021

The former boss of a US schools district who was jailed for a procurement kickback scheme has been accused of taking part in further procurement wrongdoing.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), was convicted in 2017 after steering contracts worth $20m to a former employer, but investigations into her behaviour continued after she was jailed.

report from the Chicago inspector general has made fresh allegations that she awarded a $6.3m professional services contract to a company that employed two of her friends.

Byrd-Bennett, who was released in May 2020 and put under house arrest, is accused of shaping the request for proposals to ensure her friends’ company won the contract.

Later the friends left the company in question and Byrd-Bennett looked to channel work to a new company they formed, the report alleged.

However the general counsel at CPS refused to allow her to alter the contracts in this fashion and she ended up channelling $25,000 in CPS business – the most that can be awarded without a competitive process under procurement rules – to the new company.

She also tried to persuade a third company – described as “Company 3” in the report – to hire these friends as subcontractors to deliver the same type of services.

“The preponderance of the evidence showed that Byrd-Bennett agreed to execute a contract and purchase $3.8m in services from Company 3 based on an understanding that it would partner with Friend A and Friend B,” the report said.

This arrangement fell through when Company 3 learned of legal action involving Byrd-Bennett’s two friends.

“The Byrd-Bennett investigations revealed one of the most exceptional cases of an official’s abuse of public trust in CPS’ history,” the report said.

“The series of events in this case, transpiring throughout the course of Byrd-Bennett’s CPS tenure, showed again and again her disregard for CPS contracting rules, as she repeatedly tried to find ways to give CPS business to her friends.”

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