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Probe of Puerto Rican Parade Committee leads to demand for answers

Community center Casa Puertorriqueña in Humboldt Park | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Community organizers and politicians are demanding answers about an investigation into the finances of the group that for years has staged the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade downtown.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office has been investigating the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago — which organized the June parade downtown along with a festival in Humboldt Park. The parade had been held downtown for decades until 2013, when it combined with the Puerto Rican People’s Parade, which is held along Division Street in Humboldt Park. The downtown parade was relaunched this summer and two parades were again held.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, and the Puerto Rican Agenda — a nonprofit group that advocates for the Puerto Rican community in Chicago — sought an update from the attorney general on its investigation.

“We are asking Lisa Madigan for an immediate meeting with her to actually discuss this and see where we are going with this,” Martinez said at a press conference outside Casa Puertorriqueña, 1237 N. California. The organization has operated out of the 7,000-square-foot Casa Puertorriqueña, which also has served as a community center for Humboldt Park residents.

In a letter sent to the committee last month, Barry Goldberg — deputy bureau chief of the AG’s charitable trust bureau — said his agency was looking into “whether and to what extent violations of Illinois Charitable Organization Laws have occurred.”

Goldberg wrote that the investigation was prompted by an ABC-7 news report about the group’s finances. The letter said the office needed documentation of more than $210,000 in expenses it said were listed in financial reports but not detailed. It also asked about back taxes owed on any property owned by the committee.

Madigan’s office sought the parade committee’s books, records, documents and papers dating back to Jan. 1, 2010. The organization complied and submitted the information by the Aug. 7 deadline, AG officials confirmed.

In addition to the AG, the committee has faced a series of questions from the community and politicians since it announced it planned to sell Casa Puertorriqueña this summer. The group had earlier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2017; it said it needed to sell the building to resolve its debts of more than $900,000. Much of the debt stems from mortgage and tax liens on the property, records show.

In a bankruptcy court hearing last week, the organization said it had several offers for the building ranging from $800,000 to $950,000.

Neither the former president of the committee, Angel Medina, nor its interim president, Abel De Jesus, could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Both were named in the records demand from Madigan, along with other committee members, including Jackie Baez, the group’s secretary from 2012-14. She said in an interview that she hasn’t been involved with the group since 2014 and is yet to speak with anyone from the attorney general’s office.

“I was very surprised that my name was even brought up,” Baez said.

Baez said she left the organization after ongoing disputes with other board members over how to handle contracts and finances. She said she will cooperate with the AG.