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UNO Hires Federal Judge to Oversee Contracts After Controversy Erupts

By Alex Parker | February 14, 2013 7:53pm
 The United Neighborhood Organization has hired a federal judge to oversee its contract procurement.
The United Neighborhood Organization has hired a federal judge to oversee its contract procurement.
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CHICAGO — A charter school organization that has come under scrutiny for contracts doled out to a former executive’s brother’s firm has retained a former federal judge to review its procurement practices.

The United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) has hired Wayne Andersen, who oversaw the case that banned illegal patronage hiring at City Hall, to “oversee a comprehensive review of UNO’s procurement processes,” the organization said in a news release Thursday night.

UNO received a $98 million state grant in 2009, and the organization paid millions of dollars to firms connected with UNO players, including $1.5 million to d’Ecscoto Inc., a company owned by an UNO executive’s brother, to build schools, the Sun-Times reported.

Andersen will “review and evaluate the organization’s procurement process…and develop a binding set of policies and procedures that UNO will adopt and abide with moving forward,” the statement said.

The Sun-Times reported earlier this month that d’Escoto Inc. had been paid more than $1.5 million to facilitate construction of UNO schools. Records show the business’s owner, Federico d’Escoto, was UNO’s secretary as recently as 2010. His son, Miguel d’Escoto was a senior vice president at UNO, earning as much as $166,077, until he resigned this week.

The Sun-Times also reported portions of the state grant worth as much as $9 million were also doled out to Rodrigo d’Escoto, a brother of Miguel d'Escoto. Contracts were also awarded to the sister of UNO lobbyist Victor Reyes, and two brothers of state Rep. Edward Acevedo, who voted in favor of the $98 million state grant, the paper reported.

UNO’s director is Juan Rangel, a staunch backer of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Also on its board of directors is former CTA chairman Richard Rodriquez; Veronica Alanis, the CTA’s director of special initiatives; William Albot, a former city environmental commissioner; banker Mark Doyle, and Guadalupe Gallo-Brinkman, a retired AT&T employee.

Andersen said he will be thorough in evaluating UNO’s use of the state grant.

“I intend to conduct a detailed and systematic analysis of UNO’s current policies and come up with a comprehensive set of policies that will modernized their procedures,” he said in a statement. Andersen will issue a public report on his recommendations within the next 45 days, the release said.

UNO has drawn criticism from other organizations. In January, two groups requested the state investigate UNO's finances, saying UNO has overleveraged its charter schools and is using more than $70 million in state-approved tax-exempt bonds in part to pay off private loans rather than fund education.