Juan Rangel, longtime leader of the politically powerful United Neighborhood Organization, has stepped aside from his $250,000-a-year post as UNO’s chief executive in the wake of a scandal that cost the group millions of dollars in state funding and led to a federal investigation of its bond dealings.
The influential Hispanic community group operates the largest charter-school network in Illinois.
Rangel’s departure “by mutual agreement” with the board of the not-for-profit group is effective immediately, UNO officials said Friday.
Rangel had three family members on the UNO payroll. Sources said two of the relatives quit recently, including deputy chief of staff Carlos Jaramillo, Rangel’s nephew.
Reached by phone, Rangel hung up on a reporter.
UNO has ties to some of the most powerful politicians in Illinois including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose 2011 campaign Rangel co-chaired. He currently sits on the Public Building Commission of Chicago’s board of commissioners and helped found the Metropolitan Leadership Institute (MLI), a group that prepares young Hispanic professionals for careers in politics and government, and corporate and nonprofit arenas.
Rangel became CEO of UNO in 1996 and spurred its aggressive growth into the largest charter school network in Illinois with 11 schools under its charge. An ongoing Sun-Times investigation into how it awarded contracts related to a $98 million grant to build three new schools revealed bids were won by companies owned by the brothers of former UNO executive Miguel D’Escoto. The two companies, Reflection Windows Co. and d’Escoto Inc., were paid $8.5 million from that grant. D’Escoto resigned in February but Reflection Windows continues to receive business from the group.
Part of the focus of the SEC’s investigation into UNO’s bond dealings focuses on one of the underwriters of the bonds. Cabrera Capital Markets is a company owned by Martin Cabrera Jr., who resigned as UNO board chairman in September. Cabrera was on the board for only 3-½ months. Gov. Quinn has twice suspended paying out the remainder of the grant to UNO.
Rangel previously stepped down as UNO chairman in May but retained his CEO role. He’ll now be replaced by interim chief of operations Jesse Estrada.