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Business owners frustrated with new round of COVID restrictions

Editor's note: This report was updated to correct the counties in Region 7. The region is comprised of Kankakee and Will counties. 

KANKAKEE — The level of frustration in the voices of business owners and those who support them comes across loud and clear.

As word began circulating a few days ago that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health were contemplating dropping the hammer on Region 7 of Illinois — a region comprised of Kankakee and Will counties — the mood had taken a downward turn.

On Tuesday, Pritzker put all the speculation to rest. Region 7, which is dealing with a rising COVID-19 positivity rate, would be dealing with restaurants not able to serve food indoors and bars which would not be serving drinks indoors for at least the next 14 days.

Region 7 became the second area of the state to be hit with sanctions as the positivity rate exceeded 8 percent for three consecutive days — one of the state’s triggers for added restrictions in its efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s definitely a step in the wrong direction,” noted Angela Morrey, Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce’s executive director. “This is definitely an additional challenge. These businesses have gone through so much.

“It’s one step forward and two steps back. These businesses are really going to have think creatively,” she said. “Everyone must stand behind our local businesses. This is an opportunity as an entire community to rally around our bars and restaurants. We really need to step up.”

Not only step up support for suffering businesses, she said, but step up the efforts to help drive down the positivity rate by wearing masks and social distancing.

Dirk Panozzo, owner of The Jailhouse Rock bar in Kankakee, said he follows a rather simple rule: “Always believe in the U.S. Constitution.”

Panozzo reasoned that nowhere in the document does it give a governor this type of authority.

“We were totally closed for three-and-a-half months. Then open for two. Now we’re closed again,” he said. “There’s not much more than we can take. We can’t survive like this,” he said. “We haven’t even come close to making back what we lost. We’re still trying to dig out of that hole they dug for us.

“We live day by day. We rely on daily business.”

Tim Nugent, Manteno mayor and president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said while this situation is extremely frustrating, there is little to be gained by fighting Springfield.

“What is more important? Financial stability or keeping people safe? There’s no doubt these are tough questions and a tough situation. But I can’t believe as some people are suggesting that the governor is trying to break businesses. What purpose would that serve? I would think the governor would feel much better today if the state was running smoothly,” he said.

Nugent said there is no question the region is going to face sharp declines in terms of tax revenues.

“I can tell you this,” he said, “when people were elected to office there was no training program for something like this.”

County hurt by association with new restrictions


The new COVID-19 restrictions that went into effect today for bars and restaurants have been perplexing to some area leaders. Are Kankakee County’s numbers that bad?

“I know our numbers, and I’m looking at our data,” said Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler when reached by phone on Tuesday. “They were very low. I’m not sure why they did this. I guess we’re guilty by association. That guilt is putting our businesses at risk. … Everyone is engaged in the process, and it’s working. The numbers bear that out.”

Originally, Kankakee County was lumped in with the Chicago region in the state’s Restore Illinois plan. More recently though, Kankakee County was placed in Region 7 along with just Will County.

Wheeler said Kankakee County’s positivity rate in coronavirus testing through Aug. 15 was at 5.1%, while Will County’s was 7.1%.

Kankakee County did have a couple spikes in positivity rates, according to data on the Kankakee County Health Department’s website. There was a 10.6% positivity rate on Aug. 6, 7.4% on Aug. 12, but it was back down to 4.2% on Aug. 14. It then hit 10.1% on Aug. 15 but went back down to 4.3% on Aug. 16. Those are the most recent numbers available.

“Those are updated every Friday,” said Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis, who added the numbers run a week behind.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that as of today, bars and restaurants in this two-county region — known as Region 7 in terms of the COVID-19 mitigation effort — will not be allowed to offer any indoor service.

In addition, outdoor seating will be restricted to tables being at least 6 feet apart and the establishments must close by 11 p.m. The restrictions will be in effect for 14 days. If the positivity rate remains 8 percent or higher after 14 days, more stringent mitigations will be applied, according to state documents.

“It’s going to force businesses into making decisions — remain open or just do outdoor dining,” Wheeler said. “There’s no assurances to any of [these restrictions]. To give business a half a day to comply is ridiculous.”

Bevis said Kankakee County is married to Will County when it comes to tracking the positivity rates for Region 7.

“We live by their numbers, and they live by our numbers,” he said. “At this point, in terms of numbers for our county, we are in fact below the bar on the metrics. Kankakee County would not be in [the new restrictions] on its own. But because they’re looking at the numbers for both counties, ... Will County’s numbers are driving this decision for our region. Ultimately, because it’s sink or swim altogether, we are on this mitigation because of Will County’s numbers. Their positivity rate has helped drive up the average.”

Bevis said Kankakee County’s rate is well below the bar of 8% that caused the new mitigation.

Wheeler called for the Kankakee County Health department to be considered on its own COVID-19 data rather than be tied to Will County or any other county health department’s data.

“Kankakee County residents and business have done everything possible to bend the curve here in our county, and their efforts have worked,” he said. “What we have done here has been effective in terms of public health, bed capacity and all other measures, and to penalize a community for achieving the desired outcome is beyond unfair. It is punitive and arbitrary in nature. Our residents and businesses deserve better.”

Nick Huffman, co-owner of the Looney Bin bar in Bradley, said he’s not going to abide by the new restrictions.

“I don’t think I’m going to play with [the governor] this time,” he said. “This is ridiculous for me. ... I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and go back to work. You can’t convince me the virus gets worse after 11 p.m. It does nothing but aggravate me.”

Bevis said the health department is doing its part as far as education, letting the public know what it has to continue to do.

“Our numbers have been good for our county, and I applaud the county for wearing our masks and social distancing that we ask them to do,” he said. “Because we are married with Will County, we have hope and pray they can get their numbers in check because that’s what’s going to help drive the decision to undo the mitigation. ... We can’t get frustrated and let our numbers go up.”

Kankakee liquor store owners sentenced to prison for false tax returns

Daily Journal staff report

A Bourbonnais couple, Raymond and Angie Adamee, owners of a Kankakee liquor store, were each sentenced Monday to 12 months in federal prison, followed by 12 months of home confinement for under-reporting income in filed tax returns.

The court ordered that Raymond Adamee, 53, serve his sentence first and was ordered to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Dec. 1. Angie Adamee, 51, was ordered to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 4, 2022. Both were ordered to pay restitution to the IRS and the Illinois Department of Revenue in the amount of $642,736.

The couple each pleaded guilty on Feb. 10 to under-reporting gross receipts of their business, Kankakee Plaza Liquors, 1623 E. Court St., Kankakee, for the calendar years 2012 through 2016, by approximately $1.6 million.

The Adamees still own the business and are trying to sell it, their attorneys said during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

The couple has operated the retail liquor store, predominately as a cash business, since 1989.

The under-reporting of the approximate $1,621,779 in income received by the business and its owners, resulted in their failure to pay $409,117 in federal income tax that was due.

The under-reporting also resulted in failure to pay $233,619 in income tax, replacement tax, and sales and use tax to the State of Illinois.

In 2017, the IRS uncovered the tax fraud when the couple used a business broker to list KPL for sale for $600,000.

An IRS-Criminal Investigation Division undercover agent contacted the broker to request more information about KPL and learned that KPL’s reported income to the IRS was substantially lower than represented in the sale advertisement. When IRS-CI agents executed a search warrant at the couple’s home and business location on Nov. 29, 2017, they found tens of thousands of dollars in cash kept in a safe at the their residence, according to court documents.

The Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene L. Miller represented the government in the prosecution.