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Co-owner of companies in CPS bribery scandal requests probation

Thomas Vranas, center, co-owner of SUPES Academy, arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Oct. 14, 2015, to be arraigned on bribery charges. On April 12, 2016, he pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and faces up to five years in prison. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

The co-owner of two companies at the heart of a bribery scandal at Chicago Public Schools is asking a judge for a sentence of three years probation, according to court documents filed Thursday by his attorneys.

Defense attorneys say Thomas Vranas, 36, co-owner of the SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates, was initially unaware of the corrupt arrangement between his business partner, Gary Solomon, and former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

"Although Tom did not originate the conduct in this case, he eventually participated in it," Vranas’ attorneys wrote. "And, while he wholeheartedly believed in the value of his companies and worked hard to deliver the contracted work to CPS, Tom knew that the financial arrangement with Barbara was wrong and illegal."

Defense attorneys said they expect federal prosecutors to request a 39-month prison sentence but asked the judge to consider "probation with a lengthy period of home detention and significant community service."

Vranas and Byrd-Bennett are scheduled to be sentenced April 28 at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. Solomon, cast by prosecutors as the "mastermind" of the bribery scandal, was sentenced last month to seven years in prison. Prosecutors are expected to ask that Byrd-Bennett be sentenced up to about 7 1/2 years in prison.

According to Thursday’s court filing, attorneys argue Vranas was the least culpable of the three people involved in the bribery scheme and was "pulled into the scheme originated by his codefendants."

Vranas, after consulting with Solomon, agreed to delete "bad emails" to conceal the arrangement with Byrd-Bennett, his attorneys wrote. Instead of leaving the companies or confronting Solomon, Vranas’ attorneys said their client "acted out of fear and self-interest" and participated in the scheme.

Much of the defense team’s plea for leniency focused on Vranas’ cooperation with government investigators and character endorsements from his family members, friends and colleagues.

According to the filing, Vranas first met Solomon during his senior year of high school.

"It was Gary, Tom’s former mentor, who cultivated the relationship with Barbara and concocted the corrupt payment agreement, initially keeping it a secret from Tom," Vranas’ defense team argued. "Ultimately Gary ‘corrupted’ Tom and Tom willingly participated in the offense instead of confronting Gary or leaving the Supes Entities."

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