HUMBOLDT PARK — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office earlier this month announced a settlement in the Puerto Rican Parade Committee bankruptcy case, marking the end of a nearly two-year-long investigation into the financial dealings of the embattled group.
The settlement, announced March 5, stipulates that all of the Puerto Rican Parade Committee’s remaining assets go to the replacement group, called the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee, which is now tasked with organizing the annual Puerto Rican parade and festival.
Also under the settlement, Carmen Martinez, wife of Angel “Tito” Medina, former president of the parade committee, is banned from acting as a charitable fiduciary in the state and and from serving as a trustee or board member for another nonprofit organization.
“Today’s settlement ensures that those who misused funds are held accountable for improper spending that took advantage of donors and the Chicagoans who anticipate these festivities each year,” Raoul said in a news release.
Martinez was reached Friday morning, but declined to comment, saying only, “I don’t want to talk about it until it’s all settled” before hanging up.
The Puerto Rican Parade Committee filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and set out to sell its largest asset, the building that housed beloved Puerto Rican community center Casa Puertorriqueña at 1237 N. California Ave., claiming it owed $900,000 in debt to various creditors.
Officials launched an investigation into the group in July 2018 after receiving complaints about alleged financial misconduct, including “hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable spending,” according to a news release.
Martinez claimed more than $500,000 in mortgages on the Casa Puertorriqueña property. She also went after the group’s remaining assets.
But the Attorney General’s office put a stop to it. Officials determined that Martinez had violated state law governing charitable trusts in Illinois and now, as part of the settlement, Martinez has agreed to withdraw portions of her claim and cap her recovery. She also agreed to cooperate and provide information about the group’s assets.
A judge approved the $1 million sale of the debt-ridden Casa Puertorriqueña building to local nonprofit Hispanic Housing Development Corporation in November 2018.
Under the settlement, about $30,000 from that sale will go to the Attorney General’s office which will then distribute it to the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee to use for the annual festival.
Carlos Jimenez Flores, executive director of the Daniel Ramos committee, said the settlement means Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community can “turn the page and start from scratch.”
Charlie Serrano, who is leading the effort to open a new Casa Puertorriqueña, agreed, saying, “What we need to do is move forward, move forward with a [new] festival, move forward with a new Casa, move forward with Puerto Rico Town.”
Serrano said he and other leaders are now focused on opening a new Casa Puertorriqueña. Hispanic Housing tore down the original community center to make way for a new affordable housing complex with apartments geared toward seniors and families.
Serrano said they’re close to signing a deal on a property on Division Street, but wouldn’t get into details.
As for the future of the festival, Flores said his group has some fresh ideas: They want to screen Puerto Rican films, sign up more women-focused acts and offer a blood drive.
“When you’re battling the ghost of the past, this stuff matters to the community,” he said.
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