KANKAKEE — The leader of a nonprofit group that owns an old Kankakee factory says he sees no conflict of interest by allowing his own business to hold events at the plant.
Six years ago, the nonprofit group, the American Center for Emergency Response and Education, or ACERE, converted the old General Foods plant on Hobbie Avenue into a public safety training facility, long after the plant shut down.
The General Foods plant is now off limits because the state fire marshal’s office recently identified dozens of fire code violations in the building as a result of concerns with an annual haunted house held there. But organizers of the haunted house announced Thursday on Facebook that it would start today.
Late last year, ACERE’s Kankakee-based four-member board gave way to leadership from suburban Lake County, north of Chicago.
As it happens, ACERE’s new president, Alex Paterakis, appears to have another interest in the building besides firefighter training — he sees it as a good site for airsoft competitions, where participants shoot opponents with plastic projectiles.
Paterakis’ business, Buffalo Grove-based MiR Tactical, specializes in airsoft equipment and has held a number of a few airsoft competitions in the plant since the spring, calling it “Airsoft Factory.” One posting indicated the admission price was $20.
ACERE’s board is made up of four people, Paterakis said in an interview. He and his father, Paul Paterakis, make up half the board. The younger Paterakis would not identify the other two members, saying he wants to “keep them out of it.”
“These are people we independently chose. I chose them. I wouldn’t call them friends. They are not airsoft guys,” he said. “ACERE is separate from MiR Tactical. Just because I own a business doesn’t mean I can’t be on the board for something else.”
Paterakis’ business does not see a financial benefit from the arrangement, he said. Rather, he said, the proceeds from events in the factory go to the nonprofit.
While the event announcements on Facebook do not indicate the competitions benefit a nonprofit, at least one of Paterakis’ videos on MiR Tactical’s page refers to donations. In a March video, he said, “ACERE has allowed us to donate and use the property for these types of events now. In the past, they did not.”
The Daily Journal asked whether he could show documentation that the proceeds from the events go to ACERE. He said the group’s tax forms would contain that information. The last online tax records are from 2017, before the airsoft competitions started at the plant. Besides, such records do not typically show where a nonprofit’s donations come from.
Paterakis said the proceeds from his competitions are important for the old eight-story mill.
“Building maintenance isn’t free,” Paterakis said. “(The nonprofit group) is very low budget. We try to give it as much opportunity as possible for normal operations. We have a lot of Kankakee people who volunteer, who keep security for the place. If I’m donating money to ACERE, I don’t see where there is a conflict.”
He also said people who question the arrangement between MiR Tactical and ACERE “want to do us harm.”
According to the Virginia-based Nonprofit Risk Management Center, a nonprofit group is barred from allowing its income or assets to benefit insiders, who typically include board members, officers, directors or higher-up employees.
Since 2013, Kankakee Fire Department Capt. Mike Casagrande has been the driving force behind the training center at the old factory. He was a member of the board until the change in leadership late last year.
It’s not entirely clear why the local board members handed over control of the nonprofit to Lake County residents. Paterakis referred to himself and Casagrande as acquaintances, saying his company donated to ACERE once before he took over.
Asked about the transfer of leadership, Casagrande declined to comment, saying the fire chief has advised him not to talk publicly about ACERE any longer.
Last week, Casagrande said the nonprofit’s board has not directly handled the haunted house in the past. He said another group took care of that task but that he wasn’t sure of its name now.
The fire department has been asked by the state fire marshal to make sure the code violations in the factory are corrected.