A look at when the I-Team dug deep into Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s record in Cleveland

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CLEVELAND - Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to plead guilty as soon as next week to corruption charges regarding alleged kickbacks she received during her time as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

More than ten years ago, in a series of more than twenty reports, the FOX 8 I-Team raised troubling questions as to how the Cleveland Metropolitan School District was being run at that time under Byrd-Bennett's leadership.

At the time, there were no criminal allegations, but the I-Team's findings were significant enough to spark a strong reaction from Byrd-Bennett's boss, former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.

"I talked to Barbara Byrd-Bennett," Mayor Campbell told us in 2004, "and I told her 'this is completely unacceptable', and I expected her to fix it."

The mayor was referring to stories by I-Team reporter Tom Merriman showing that the district employed over 200 spare bus drivers - in essence, "ghost employees" who were paid to drive school buses - even though they didn't have assigned buses or routes.

I-Team undercover cameras found many of the spare drivers hanging out in the school bus depot - playing pool and charades.

Byrd-Bennett said she was unaware of the problem, and promised an investigation.

"The thing I'm incensed about," Byrd-Bennett told us at the time, "is that everybody in the system...has to be accountable...."

Accountability was also a problem when it came to how many students Cleveland schools told the state of Ohio were riding its buses.

Cleveland submitted a report saying it was over 9,000, when in reality it was under 6,000.

The numbers are important, because the state reimburses districts for transportation, in part, based on how many students ride buses.

Byrd-Bennett stood strong that there "has been no evidence to support any conclusion that...members of the district fraudulently or intentionally inflated the numbers reported to the state."

But there was evidence.

"I did it," Lou Marcelino told the I-Team, after he'd been fired as the district's transportation business manager.

"I inflated the numbers under the orders, of course, of my superior," he said.

Byrd-Bennett attributed problems at the time to sloppy work - and not fraud.

"I don't like to make excuses, because it's just not my style," she said at the time.

In Chicago, federal prosecutors say it wasn't style that got her into trouble; it was substance - namely, steering contracts worth over $20 million to a company that promised to pay her perhaps over $2 million in kickbacks.

Why did she want the money?

According to the indictment against her, Byrd-Bennett was quoted as saying she had tuition to pay and casinos to visit.

**Read more and see the entire indictment HERE**

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