Sun-Times Sues Troubled Charter School Network


CHICAGO (CN) - After blasting a charter school network in a series of articles for "lucrative payments on contracts" to "relatives of UNO insiders," the Chicago Sun-Times sued the UNO Charter School network for more records.
     The Sun-Times and its reporter Dan Mihalopoulos sued UNO Charter School Network, United Charter School Network (UCSN), and United Neighborhood Organization of Chicago, in Cook County Court.
     The Sun-Times this year published a series of articles by Mihalopoulos, alleging that UNO misused state funds, "including lucrative payments on contracts awarded to relatives of UNO insiders. UNO's CEO was compelled to issue a public apology for the incidents described in the Sun-Times reports, and defendants committed to adopt the recommendations of a retired federal judge who was hired by UNO to review those incidents," the lawsuit states.
     After the publication of Mihalopoulos' articles - in February, March and July - Illinois twice suspended UNO's funding for new school construction, and in October, Mihalopoulos reported that the SEC was investigating UNO for possible securities fraud.
     "Following up on new leads, Mihalopoulos, in his capacity as a reporter, served
     FOIA requests on September 5, 2013, for additional public records on UCSN and UNO, respectively," the complaint states.
     Mihalopoulos asked for records of UNO's payments to lobbyists, auditors, media spokespeople, and the services of the federal judge who reviewed its construction contracts.
     He sent more FOIA requests in November, seeking documents reflecting salaries and bonuses paid to UNO employees who worked for UCSN under management agreements, and copies of school credit card bills for UNO's CEO Juan Rangel.
     But "fearful of negative publicity and possible loss of funding, [defendants] have intentionally violated in the FOIA in a self-serving manner designed to avoid and/or delay the public release of additional evidence of wrongdoing," Mihalopoulos claims in the lawsuit.
     In a previous battle over FOIA requests to UNO, the Office of the Attorney General concluded that UNO and UCSN "operate as the same entity for purposes of serving as the governing body of the charter schools," so UNO is not exempt from FOIA requests as a private entity, according to the complaint.
     "The public has a significant interest in the records sought via the FOIA request and defendants lack a reasonable basis in law for withholding such records," Mihalopoulos says.
     The Sun-Times wants to see the records, and seeks imposition of a civil penalty.
     It is represented by Damon Dunn with Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn.