MCKINLEY PARK — Concept Schools, a company that operates several charter schools in Chicago, is under federal investigation for allegations of white-collar crimes, officials said.
Conducted by the FBI, Department of Education and Federal Communication Commission, the inquiry into the Des Plaines-based charter management company ensnares 19 of the company's schools in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The agencies began executing search warrants earlier this month. The search warrants are sealed and officials would not disclose the nature of the investigation or say which schools have been targeted.
"All we can say at this time is that it's relating to an ongoing white-collar matter. With all the school violence going on, we want to make sure people understand the search warrants have nothing to do with school violence or threats. It's all relating to a white-collar matter," said Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Cleveland office.
Concept operates three schools in Chicago: the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park, the Horizon Science Academy Belmont in Austin and Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park. Earlier this year, CPS gave the company the green light to open two more schools, one in South Chicago and the other in Chatham.
Irene Bermudez, a spokeswoman for the Rogers Park school, said FBI agents arrived at the North Side campus last week and “looked through whatever.”
“I have absolutely no idea what they’re looking for," she said, referring further questions to Concept Charter officials.
Concept School vice-president Salim Ucan could not be reached for comment and Cafer Cengiz, principal of the McKinley Park school, did not return calls.
A Concept spokesman told the Sun-Times federal education officials had asked for certain documents as part of an audit, but the FBI's Anderson disputed that.
"We don't do audits," she said.
The proliferation of the Turkish-founded company's schools across the Midwest have been the source of intrigue for political observers and education policy analysts, both in America and abroad.
Leaders for Concept Schools company, say while they may have been inspired by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, their schools have no financial or religious ties to the "Gulen Movement," the name prescribed to the web of influential media, cultural and international business concerns influenced by him.
But observers of the Muslim cleric, including Loyola University Maryland author Joshua Hendrick and California-based researcher Sharon Higgins, say Concept and other Turkish-American charter operators are inextricably linked.