KANKAKEE — Two former board members of the Haunted Factory say they ended their involvement last year after the board’s leadership failed to reveal how they spent the proceeds, despite repeated requests.
For the last six years, a haunted house has been held in the old General Foods factory on Hobbie Avenue. The building is owned by the American Center for Emergency Response and Education, or ACERE. Its goal is to make available the eight-story factory to firefighters and police officers for training.
Those involved with ACERE say a separate board oversees the haunted house.
In a Facebook video over the weekend, Alex Paterakis, ACERE’s president, said the proceeds from the haunted house this year would go to the nonprofit. And the Haunted Factory’s Facebook page indicates the money goes to “a local nonprofit organization,” but does not identify it.
The former General Foods factory got in the news late last month when the Kankakee city government, prompted by the state fire marshal, announced the plant was off limits until ACERE fixed dozens of fire code violations
Asked about that earlier this month, Kankakee fire Capt. Mike Casagrande, secretary-treasurer for the ACERE board until late last year, said his group had little involvement because the separate haunted house board ran the event. He said it was his understanding the proceeds from the haunted house had gone to ACERE and other organizations.
However, Stan Schiel, a former board member, said he left the haunted house board last year because the board’s leadership declined to provide information on how the money was spent
“I have no clue where the money went,” Schiel said in an interview. “Every time we asked, we couldn’t get information. My concern was that I’m helping you make all this money, where is it going?”
He said he left the board because of the lack of information.
Jeff Hutson, another former board member, said he too was concerned about where the money went. He said he could get no accounting.
He estimated the haunted house raised up to $50,000 per year.
At an ACERE meeting in December 2018, Hutson said he came prepared with three pages of questions for Paterakis, who had just become ACERE’s president.
“The few other board members that chose to join this meeting had no questions about ACERE, only mundane chatter about what they do in the haunted house and playing airsoft,” Hutson said in an email to the Daily Journal.
Airsoft is in reference to Paterakis’ business, Buffalo Grove-based MiR Tactical, which sells equipment for airsoft competitions, where participants shoot opponents with plastic projectiles. MiR Tactical has held a few airsoft events in the factory. (Paterakis said the airsoft proceeds go to ACERE, but has produced no documentation to the Daily Journal to that effect.)
Faced with questions about the haunted house’s finances at the meeting, Hutson said, Paterakis seemed uninterested.
When the Daily Journal left messages with the other board members, Paterakis called back indicating those members had alerted him, saying he handled inquiries on behalf of the haunted house board. He said ACERE would release a statement in response to the newspaper, but did not do so.
Paterakis couldn’t be reached for comment this week. Until last year, the ACERE board consisted of local members, but late last year, those members resigned and suburban Lake County residents, including Paterakis, took control.
FIRE TRUCK ON HAND
While Casagrande is distancing himself from the haunted house board, the fire department appeared to have some involvement in the event. That was evidenced by a fire truck that was on hand at the Haunted Factory over the years.
In an email, fire Chief Damon Schuldt confirmed the department allowed ACERE to use an older, reserve fire engine at the haunted house while an off-duty member of the department was present.
“There was no charge for this. We generally evaluate the public’s request for our services on a case-by-case basis,” Schuldt said. “For example, we have stood by at fireworks shows, assisted local high schools with their bonfires and have assisted a local school with filling drums with water to anchor tents for a public event — just to name a few.
“We strive to be responsive to the public needs when we can. The public’s safety is always paramount to us,” the chief said.
The state fire marshal’s investigation of General Foods found, among other things, that all exits but one were barricaded shut, a fire alarm system needed to be installed, the electrical system was in “deplorable condition,” and all the fire extinguishers were dated 1999.
The haunted house reopened last weekend after it apparently passed an inspection.