HUMBOLDT PARK — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is investigating the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago amid claims of financial misconduct and a swirling bankruptcy drama that could cost the neighborhood a beloved community center.
New allegations have emerged in the case against the parade committee of Chicago, which has already been accused of stealing ticket money collected at this year’s Puerto Rican Parade, among other allegations of financial misconduct.
About three weeks ago, Madigan’s office launched an official investigation into the financial dealings of the parade committee.
Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley declined to provide specific information, saying it’s an “active investigation into the charity and the charity’s funds” based on a number of complaints.
What’s known is Chicago Police are investigating claims that a former member of the committee stole ticket money collected at the parade held in Humboldt Park.
Unsatisfied with the pace of the investigations, members of the nonprofit Puerto Rican Agenda and State Sen. Iris Martinez recently embarked on a fact-finding mission of their own.
The group convened for a press conference in front of the Casa Puertorriqueña community center at 1237 N. California Ave. Tuesday afternoon to call for more transparency and urgency from Madigan’s office.
At the press conference, members of the Puerto Rican Agenda alleged roughly $80,000 collected at this year’s Puerto Rican Parade was stolen. The group also says officials stole computers and other records, possibly to cover up the theft.
Authorities could not immediately confirm this information, citing the ongoing investigation.
Then-president of the parade committee Angel “Tito” Medina “offered the community center building, that is not his personally, but belonging to the organization, to be sold to pay his debt. His relatives, including his wife, has a debt of $550,000 on this building,” Charlie Serrano, co-chair of Puerto Rican Agenda’s policy and public affairs committee, said at the press conference.
“We see a tremendous conflict of interest, a violation of every single law you can find,” Serrano added.
According to bankruptcy court documents that stretch back to last fall, the committee is in deep financial trouble. It owes just over $900,000 to various creditors.
If Madigan’s office doesn’t get more involved, the group argued, the neighborhood will lose Casa Puertorriqueña in a couple short weeks when bankruptcy court proceedings begin to wrap up.
The loss of the beloved community center would be a significant blow to the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community, the group said.
“The Puerto Rican Agenda is concerned of the lack of follow up, response and urgency from the Attorney General Lisa Madigan relating to the Puerto Rican Parade Committee investigation could result in a loss and sale of the Casa Puertorriqueña to developers gentrifying the community,” the group wrote in a news release.
The release continued, saying, “The Casa Puertorriqueña is in process of being sold to the highest bidder to pay outstanding debts, while the Bankruptcy Judge is unaware of the potential fraud and pending investigation.”
Committee members didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
When word got out that the committee wanted to sell Casa Puertorriqueña amid the bankruptcy drama, Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), whose ward includes the building, jumped in to block the sale by introducing a zoning change.
At a bankruptcy hearing last month, the committee’s lawyer, Paul Bach of Bach Law Offices, said his team had already received at least eight offers on the property, one of which was $100,000 over the asking price of $800,000. Many of those potential buyers are condo developers, Bach said during the hearing.
The alleged theft was not mentioned during the hearing. The conversation instead revolved around Maldonado and his motivation for blocking the sale.
Judge Carol A. Doyle warned that Maldonado’s plan may end up having the opposite effect. She said he may end up hurting the community he’s trying to help.
“Things are not going to turn out well at all for this community center. … tax purchasers aren’t known for being community-minded. There’s a reason they’re considered vultures,” Doyle said during the hearing.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said it’s critical Madigan’s office intervene to ensure Casa Puertorriqueña remains open.
“They have to go and stop this in bankruptcy court so we can continue to find other options,” Martinez said.
“We have community-based organizations that want to work together to keep this building here. It is the property of the Puerto Rican community — nobody else’s.”