Former North Chicago School Board Member Sentenced to 30 Months in Federal Prison for Bus Contracts Fraud Scheme
CHICAGO—A former North Chicago school board member, and the last defendant of five, was sentenced today to 30 months in federal prison for receiving at least $566,000 in kickbacks from three co-defendants who controlled several different transportation companies that received more than $21 million in student bus contracts over nearly a decade.
The defendant, ALICE SHERROD, 63, of North Chicago, pleaded guilty in September 2013 to one count each of wire fraud and filing a false federal income tax return. Sherrod admitted that between 2001 and 2010 she schemed to deprive the approximately 4,000-student North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 (NCSD) of her honest services. Sherrod, who was the school district’s Director of Transportation, participated in the fraud scheme with four co-defendants, including Gloria Harper, who was the former President of the North Chicago school board. The three co-defendants funneled kickbacks totaling at least $800,000 to Harper and Sherrod and made more than $9.6 million in profits.
“Unlike three of her co-defendants, she was in a position of public trust that affected poor children. She did not think about who she was hurting. And this went on for more than five years.” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said in imposing the sentence today. Judge Coleman ordered Sherrod to serve her sentence beginning August 31, 2015. The judge also ordered Sherrod to pay approximately $7.2 million in restitution.
“The North Chicago School District has one of the highest low-income populations in the state. But rather than looking out for the interests of the district’s taxpayers and the children who depended on the schools for education, Sherrod selfishly used her position to enrich herself, and then filed false tax returns,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Getter argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum.
All five defendants pled guilty last year and have been sentenced. In addition to Sherrod’s sentence of 30 months imposed today, Gloria Harper, 64, of Berwyn and formerly of Gurnee, received a 10 year sentence, Tommie Boddie, 69, of Harvest, Ala., and formerly of Wadsworth received a one-day term of imprisonment followed by a three year term of supervised release including nine months’ home confinement; Derrick Eubanks, 50, of Lake Villa received six months’ imprisonment; and Barrett White, 55, of Matteson, received a one day term of imprisonment followed by a one year term of supervised release during which White will spend the first six months of supervised release serving weekend imprisonment.
Sherrod, who was District 187’s transportation director from 2001 to July 2010, used her position, along with Harper, to enrich themselves secretly by soliciting and accepting gifts and cash from their three co-defendants in exchange for favorable official action regarding student transportation contracts. Initially, Harper and Sherrod received kickbacks of approximately $4,000 to $5,000 a month but, by 2003, they were collecting approximately $20,000 a month.
From the late 1990s until mid-2003, the NCSD contracted with various companies to provide student transportation, including T&M Transportation, which was owned in part and controlled by Boddie, and Eubanks Transportation, which was owned in part and controlled by Eubanks. In 2001, Harper and Sherrod met with Boddie and agreed they would arrange for the NCSD to increase the number of students that T&M transported in exchange for kickback payments.
In May 2003, Harper suggested to Boddie and Eubanks that they join together to form one company ― Safety First Transportation, Inc., which won the NCSD’s transportation contract in 2003, and Harper, Sherrod, Boddie, and Eubanks agreed that they would split the profits from the contract. After an IRS audit of Safety First in 2006-2007, White, who had been acting as the “bagman” for the kickbacks, began receiving funds from Safety First as both an employee and a contractor, even though he provided little service other than being the bagman.
In April 2008, the defendants agreed to set up a new company, Quality Trans, LLC, to replace Safety First and to assume its contracts with the school district. All five agreed to continue splitting profits from Quality Trans, and Boddie, Eubanks and White continued making cash payments to Harper and Sherrod.
The sentence was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Robert J. Holley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Stephen Boyd, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago. The North Chicago School District cooperated with the investigation.