Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 3, 2007 - We heard some pretty strong language this week from Scott Burnham, a spokesman for the Illinois treasurer's office, about a report on the infamous state loan that built the Collinsville Holiday Inn.
"The findings include questionable accounting practices, ghost payrolling, inflated salaries and egregious freeloading. It demonstrates the arrogance of the hotel owners, especially B.C. Gitcho, who has thumbed his nose at taxpayers and used the hotel as his personal piggybank," Burnham said.
But when you look at the details, it appears Burnham was being too kind.
The Collinsville hotel was built in 1982 with a state loan that has ballooned to $29 million. The owners fell behind on payments and state leaders let them renegotiate so they didn't have to pay if the hotel wasn't showing a profit.
The result was two payments during the past decade. The state report showed why:
--No profit reported to the state last year, yet they paid their general manager a $31,000 "profitability bonus" atop his $120,000 salary and $91,000 in management fees.
--Three people close to Gitcho were paid a total of $128,000 but performed no work.
--Up to $270,000 in travel expenses were charged to the hotel for people who did not work there.
--Gitcho regularly ate free breakfasts at the hotel, took steaks to cook at home and charged other unrelated expenses to the hotel.
State Rep. Tom Holbrook said prosecutors should look at the abuses outlined in the report.
We not only hope there's some prison time in all this if people are found guilty, we hope there is some asset seizure so the people who cheated the taxpayers lose the spoils. We also applaud state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for finally putting the hotel into receivership and preparing to auction it.
State taxpayers will never see their $29 million repaid, but at least the deception is at an end.
Copyright (c) 2007, Belleville News-Democrat, Ill.
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