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CPS Inspector General's Office often investigates school board's 'enemies' — not CPS corruption

Like its counterpart at Chicago's City Hall, the Chicago Board of Education’s Inspector General office is supposed to investigate corruption and help prosecute those found guilty. Throughout the course of the school year, the IG investigates hundreds of complaints that come in from the huge school system, and its annual report is a compilation of the cases it has investigated. Supposedly, the IG is one of those "independent" investigators that film fans marvel at in Hollywood movies: independent, incorruptible, and on the side of truth, justice, and the American Way.

Officially, the Inspector General is independent of the CPS chain of command and issues its report directly to the Board of Education every year. The Inspector General's offices are even separate from the Board's offices, with the Board renting a suite of office and parking for the IG and his staff on Jackson Boulevard in Greek Town, a mile west of the CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St.

The current IG, a retired FBI agent named James Sullivan, is currently paid $130,000 per year. The public is supposed to think that the IG is sort of like Elliot Ness in the "Untouchables." The IG himself, with the assistance of some Chicago reporters, routinely burnishes his own image by releasing his annual report — or at least some salacious details of it — to the Chicago Sun-Times, which dutifully reports the spin the IG puts on the whole year's work.

But what if the IG office is instead used by those with political connections to go after their enemies? And what if the IG avoids the most serious corruption inside Chicago's public schools (and charter schools) and instead becomes a kind of secret police working on behalf of the powerful?

What if, as many teachers have suspected for years the IG's office was really a hotbed of politically motivated corruption with the power to investigate people, ruin teachers' lives, intimidate staff with "investigations", and add to the undermining of the integrity of the school system?

A closer look at the IG work of the past several years raises those questions, while the IG refuses to answer any questions posed by Substance.

The most recent examples of problems with politics in the IG's office come from Chicago's far south side. According to some teachers, George Washington High School Principal Florence Gonzales has a friend at the IG office. That friend is investigating teachers who have filed lawsuits, grievances and complaints against her.

The embattled principal currently has three lawsuits filed against her. They accuse her of stealing funds, improperly firing teachers, and racially discriminating against employees. Teachers and others at the school assumed that the IG would also be investigating the same allegations on behalf of the Board. Instead, the opposite appears to be true: the Board's investigators are investigating the teachers, not the principal accused of various kinds of corruption.

According to Washington teachers and formal complaints, Gonzales has purged many teachers at Washington High School since she became principal in 2008, illegally (or at least unethically) hired employees with criminal backgrounds, and used the alderman’s office to hire staff.

Her actions, including eliminating a program that has reduced the number of black students, became so odious to many teachers and students that the students had a walk out protest her first year.

However, rather than investigate Gonzales, the inspector general’s office apparently is investigating her opponents who have either questioned or opposed some of her controversial actions.

“She is trying to intimidate people who disagree with her,” said one teacher who said he was interrogated by the IG office, but asked to remain anonymous. This teacher believes he was targeted because he had spoken out in the past.

Gloria Haffer, who ran an award-winning culinary arts program at Washington before being purged by Gonzales, currently has filed a lawsuit against the principal seeking the return of over $80,000 worth of cooking utensils the principal has kept.

Haffer was investigated by the IG office, and was found not quilty, she said.

Another teacher, Pat Banks, who has been battling the principal was also investigated by the IG office, but was not further questioned.

The interesting link — one of the investigators at the IG office assigned to many of the cases at Washington is Luis Velez. Velez has been a member of the corrupt Hispanic Democratic Organization or HDO. After media exposes, HDO was a defendant in the famous Sorich trial, which convicted several city workers for corruption, according to a Suntimes report.

“I heard that a lot of teachers were being investigated so I asked (Velez) how investigations get assigned,” said lawyer Matt Layman, who is representing several Washington High School teachers in lawsuits against Gonzalaus. “He said they get assigned randomly.”

However, it appears Velez has been regularly showing up to investigate the Washington teachers.

“It seems odd that all these investigations are by Luis Velez,” said Layman, who attended the hearing with Banks and Velez.

Velez’s connection to HDO is significant since Gonzales admitted in a deposition with Layman that she has known Al Sanchez for many years. Sanchez was recently convicted and sentenced to prison as the former head of the city’s street and sanitation department and HDO for political patronage corruption.

Velez told Substance he could not comment on his involvement in the Washington investigations nor his background with HDO. He told Substance to speak to his boss, inspector general Jim Sullivan.

James Sullivan refused to return numerous Substance calls asking to comment on why the IG office is investigating Gonzales’ enemies and not Gonzales herself, and why a former member of HDO is working at the inspector general’s office.

The IG office was created after Mayor Richard Daley took over the schools in 1996, following the passage of the Amendatory Act of 1995. A lengthy Board Report was approved by the Board in 1998 establishing the Office of the Inspector General and appointing the first IG, former Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Maribeth Vander Weele.

[The URL for the 1998 Board Report for those whose browsers are unable to get the hotlink above is:

http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/Departments/Pages/InspectorGeneralResolution98-0923-RS12.aspx]

According to recent records, the IG has recently been used to fire many teachers last year for violating the city’s residency rule which mandates that teachers live in Chicago, while ignoring some of the more glaring corruption. In May 2010, for example, the Chicago Board of Education issued warning resolutions to 80 teachers and other CPS workers for alleged residency violations. All of the investigations were conducted by the IG's office.

[The URL for the Board's action agenda listing the May 2010 warning resolutions for those who cannot access it through the hotlink above is:

http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/The_Board_of_Education/Pages/Actions2010_05.aspx]

Corruption at the IG's office — and covering up on behalf of politically connected individuals and groups — is not just a problem at Washington High School, according to an ongoing Substance investigation.

One example from the other side of town is the Aspira Charter School. The Aspira charter schools are currently facing a federal lawsuit for strip searching three female students at the "Aspira Haugan Charter School, Aspira's middle school campus in Albany Park. Other allegations against the politically powerful charter school that include changing attendance and grades have been ignored by the IG's office.

Whistle blower Meg Sullivan (no relation to James Sullivan) was a former Aspira teacher who first broke the news to the Board of Education about the strip search at the Aspira Haugan Middle School. She was fired and has since settled her case for retaliation with the school.

Sullivan sent a letter outlining numerous violations to the inspector general’s office that should be looked into. She said Inspector General Sullivan told her that a few administrators lost their jobs, including the school’s principal, and so that was enough and no further investigation was necessary.

Interestingly enough, not only was the controversial charter school absolved from any further investigation, it is actually set to open another high school campus at a time when funding is non-existent for regular law-abiding public schools.

Corruption inside the IG's office was known to Substance as early as the Vallas administration and has continued since. The latest problems for teachers at Washington High School in 2010 and 2011 sounds like problems faced by teachers at other schools over the years.

“So who investigates the inspector general?” one teacher asked.

That was another question the IG office refused to comment on.



Comments:

June 28, 2011 at 12:25 PM

By: Willis Wilson

corruption, conspiracy, and murder ,,,, the wrong man

the Schaumburg police and many high level people are involved in an incredible ongoing conspiracy and coverup ,,,,,,, the blatant false arrrest and imprisonment of me,malicious prosecution,armed kidnapping,deviate sexual assault,rape and murder of several young suburban girls,probably from the 1970,s

see dupage cold case

904 476-9701 willis wilson former usmc

September 15, 2011 at 2:09 PM

By: M Lourdes Garcia

Waters Elementary School

... and I was going to ask the IGO to investigate WATERS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL for the same reasons cited above in your article; What a disapointment!!!

What has happened to the Educational System in America is a SHAMME, no wonder the World is laughing at us for been so behind most of the developed countries in Education as well.

If you have watched WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, the documentary, you know what I mean. My child is suffering retalliation that is ment to target me for been a WYSTLE BLOWER.

September 4, 2014 at 9:22 PM

By: Alicia Negrete

Corruption

Funny how I blew the whistle on a famous lieutenant who never even got indicted and is out there retaliating and punishing me for blowing the whistle! These powerful people are in Ohio now they've banned me from working with the Chicago public schools by hiring the CEO and network chief from Ohio with their mission to destroy me!!

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