Monday, June 20, 2011

Prior to confirming Gery Chico to head State Board of Education, Illinois senators asked about his ties to nonprofit under investigation by IL Attorney General

From the June 18 Chicago Tribune:
Illinois lawmakers have a few other items to tackle besides keeping summer construction projects rolling when they return to Springfield on Wednesday...The Senate also is expected to act on a handful of recent Quinn appointments, including naming former Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico to head the Illinois State Board of Education.
Today Texas political writer Lee Cary asked the members of the Senate's Education Committee if, prior to confirming him for job, they intend to ask Chico about his ties to the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF), a high-profile, politically-connected nonprofit which has been the subject of dozens of media exposes and is reportedly under investigation by the IL Attorney General's Charitable Trust Bureau.

According to his letter to the ten senators, in in the past six months, Cary sent multiple inquiries to Chico asking him to answer some straightforward questions about SALF, but never received a reply. 

Cary's letter, which was copied to a handful of Illinois reporters including ABC Chicago Chuck Goudie (and to me), includes this pull from Goudie's first report about SALF:
One of Illinois' highest profile charities teaches the Heimlich maneuver to children while maneuvering the truth to get money from government and big business.

It's called the Save-A-Life Foundation and is known across Illinois as an organization that teaches schoolchildren how to respond in emergencies. For the past few years, Save-A-Life has received millions of dollars in government funds and corporate donations. An ABC7 I-Team investigation has uncovered a series of misleading claims and deceptive credentials that raise doubts about Save-A-Life's integrity, funding and training.
Cary's letter also cited this Huffington Post article from February when Chico was a candidate in the Chicago mayoral race: Save A Life Foundation Connection: What Was (Chico's) Role At Troubled Charity? which reported:
When asked about Chico's involvement with the foundation, campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson flatly denied his involvement. "Gery wasn't on this board," she said. When presented with page 53 of the above document, Anderson responded, "That link you sent is wrong. Gery was not on that board."
According to Maura Possley, the deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General's Office, a nonprofit misrepresenting the makeup of its board of directors in an annual report would be perjury, a Class 3 felony.
The Huffington Post asked the Chico campaign if it was willing to accuse Save A Life of perjury, and if so, whether it would be willing to publicly call for an investigation into the matter. So far, his campaign has not responded on that question, despite several further attempts at contact.
Chico served as the president of the school board from 1995 to 2001. He also appeared at SALF's "Bridge the Gap" Summit in 2003, where he received a 10th Year Anniversary Award from the organization.
In a news release from that same year, Chico's wife, Sunny, described her husband as "instrumental to bringing SALF to the Chicago Public Schools" during his tenure there.
It is unclear at this point why Chico would deny he was on the board, or, if indeed he was not, why he would be unwilling to press for further investigation, given his forceful campaigning on ethics reform.
Gery Chico accepts award from SALF founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri, reportedly a twice-convicted shoplifter who claimed non-existent medical credentials and a bogus college degree. (Source document here.)
Cary's letter also suggested to the committee members that they ask Chico about a 1999 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) resolution he signed (along with Paul Vallas) that invited SALF into CPS, stating:
(SALF) has trained 35,000 statement in 1998, including 10.000 Chicago children and 23,000 more students who are schedule to complete the Save a Life Training by April 1999.
Cary's letter pointed out that "the only records the Chicago Schools have been able to produce indicate that at best a few hundred students were trained," so where did Chico come up with the numbers?

The letter also informed the senators that on August 27, 1999, just three months after Mr. Chico signed the CPS resolution, the State Board of Education (ILBOE) awarded $600,000 to SALF. However, in response to a FOIA request, the ILBOE's public information officer has repeatedly stated that no records except this ledger showing the payout. Per Cary's letter, "There are no applications, no review forms, no follow-up reports, no correspondence – nothing."

Cary's final request to the senators:
I'd also appreciate you asking (Chico) that if he's appointed to run the State Board of Education, will he investigate what happened to the $600,000 awarded to SALF?
Download a copy of his letter here or via the Scribd link below.
inquiry to IL state education committee members re: Gery Chico, Save-A-Life Foundation, 6/20/11

SALF founder/president, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, 2/18/05