- Associated Press - Friday, March 24, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal judge on Friday sentenced the owner of two education-services companies to a seven-year prison term, after prosecutors painted him as the “mastermind” behind bribes and kickbacks made to the former head of Chicago Public Schools.

Gary Solomon’s sentencing comes after a plea agreement last year. As part of that agreement he admitted he offered former school district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett bribes and kickbacks in exchange for her steering $23 million in contracts to his companies. Byrd-Bennett previously worked for Solomon’s companies. Prosecutors say the 48-year-old from Wilmette also provided Byrd-Bennett with other perks, including meals and sports tickets.

Byrd-Bennett has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and is to be sentenced next month. Prosecutors have asked she be sentenced to more than seven years in prison. She tearfully apologized after pleading guilty a year and a half ago.

Solomon’s attorneys have contested his level of involvement and asked for an 18-month term. They argue Solomon has cooperated with prosecutors and faced “very public humiliation, guilt and remorse every day.”

Prosecutors meanwhile asked for a nine-year sentence, saying Solomon benefited from millions of dollars gained while the companies sold services to a district with struggling schools that served disadvantaged students.

It involved a corrupt process from beginning to end,” prosecutors said in a court filing earlier this month.

Prosecutors say Solomon’s companies, SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and face millions in fines.

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