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A Quinn ‘no’ to UNO: Governor says no more school construction money

Updated: November 20, 2013 6:15AM

Gov. Pat Quinn vowed Friday not to give “any more” school construction money to the scandal-tainted United Neighborhood Organization after word surfaced this week of a federal securities probe into the clout-heavy group that’s spent tens of millions of dollars in state grant funds building charter schools.

“My judgment is we’re not going to give any more construction money to UNO given the situation that they have found themselves in,” Quinn told reporters at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago in his first public statements about suspending UNO funding for a second time this year.

On Thursday, aides to the governor disclosed they froze the last $15 million from a $98 million grant that lawmakers and the governor approved in 2009 for UNO, the state’s largest charter-school operator.

“I’m not going to let that money be invested in UNO for anymore school construction,” Quinn said. “They have some work to do, lots of work, to straighten out their affairs.”

The Sun-Times reported Wednesday that UNO’s board received a letter Sept. 20 from the federal Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division in Chicago, confirming it was investigating “to determine if violations of the federal securities laws have occurred.” The SEC is seeking documents tied to $37.5 million the group raised in 2011 by selling state-backed bonds, as well as state grant records.

Quinn yanked funding for the organization last April, after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that two contractors owned by brothers of a top UNO executive were paid $8.5 million in grant funds. The executive, Miguel d’Escoto, resigned days after the report.

Quinn restored funding in early June, saying he was confident UNO would implement reforms. But less than three weeks after that, Quinn’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity — which oversees the grant — got a letter from the SEC requesting documents about UNO. That means Quinn’s administration knew UNO was under investigation almost four months before suspending UNO’s funding again.

Quinn’s administration continued to support construction of an UNO high school on the Southwest Side, which opened last month, despite learning of the federal probe almost four months ago.

Quinn said he did so “for children, so they can learn.”

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