More UNO scandals for Illinois Executive Inspector General – Part 1

UNO CEO Juan Rangel posing in front of "our private plane," from Rangel Facebook page

UNO CEO Juan Rangel posing in front of “our private plane,” from Rangel Facebook page

It was very gratifying to hear that the state of Illinois is suspending payment of the balance of a $98 million grant to the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and its charter school network, to be resumed only if/until UNO complies with certain demands by the state agency.

Today I sent a set of Facebook downloads from the Facebook pages of UNO CEO Juan Rangel and friends to Ricardo Meza, the state Executive Inspector General, with copies to the state Auditor General.

PRESS RELEASE *** For Immediate Release

April 29, 2013

Contact: Julie Woestehoff, 773-538-1135

Chicago parent group asks state inspector general

to widen probe of UNO, CEO Rangel

Chicago, IL – Today, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) asked the state Executive Inspector General (EIG) to broaden its investigation into the use of state funds by the United Neighborhood Organization and UNO Charter Network.

The initial complaint against UNO was filed by PURE and members of the Pilsen Academy local school council and parent community on January 17, 2013. That complaint called on the EIG to investigate how this politically-connected organization has been able to amass $98 million in legislative earmarks and nearly $70 million in tax-exempt bonds without proper oversight, in what seems like a complicated financial shell game.

The EIG initiated an investigation of the groups’ complaint on January 18 (letter). While some in the media concluded that the state investigation was due to their news reports, these stories were published well after the EIG launched its investigation into the PURE/Pilsen community complaint.

We were pleased when, days after our complaint was filed, an additional $35 million slated for UNO was taken off the table. More recently, the state funding agency overseeing the $98 million UNO grant has suspended payment of those funds until UNO complies with contractual rules.

Today’s letter from PURE to the EIG includes a set of downloads from the Facebook pages of UNO CEO Juan Rangel and friends, received from an anonymous source, which raise further questions about whether UNO is properly using these state funds.

For example:

  • UNO CEO Juan Rangel is shown posing with a corporate jet identified as “our private jet.” Was this jet purchased with funds designated by the state for educational programs?
  • Several photos show Rangel and family members using at least one UNO charter school for personal family events. Did the family pay rent, or are the schools being used as a personal party venue?
  • Several photos show Rangel and UNO staff (some in Mickey Mouse ears) posing at Disneyland, purportedly for staff training. Is this an appropriate use of educational funds?

These photos also raise questions about whether UNO is using state funds to endorse and campaign for political candidates in violation of state funding requirements and IRS non-profit rules.

  • One photo caption on Rangel’s Facebook page promotes candidate Silvana Tabares, and adds, “If you haven’t received an election day assignment, send me a message and I’ll connect you to the campaign.”
  • Another photo shows a button, “Blago must go” with the UNO logo.

PURE has also filed a copy of today’s complaint with the Illinois Auditor General.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.