Investigation: Cahokia mayor giving family, friends tax breaks, village employment

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by Craig Cheatham / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on May 16, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Updated Friday, May 17 at 7:25 AM

(KMOV) – News 4 investigates the political practices of the mayor of the Village of Cahokia. 

Village of Cahokia Mayor Gary Cornwell has been in office for two years yet is already facing criticism on the decisions he has made. 
 
News 4 Investigates confirmed repeated tax breaks were given by the Village of Cahokia to an employee of the city who owns a restaurant in the town. 
 
Mayor Cornwell was also found to be hiring relatives for government work, including his brother and father. 
 
He is also accused of using village money to buy a $30,000 truck even though he could have driven a village-owned vehicle. 
 
Mayor Cornwell spoke with News 4’s Craig Cheatham, “I understand that there are people out there who are political enemies of mine who want to demonize everything I do.” 
 
One known enemy of Cornwall is Michelle Halter, the wife of convicted felon Harry Halter, who was the focus of several News 4 Investigations. 
 
Halter was the director of human resources for the Village of Cahokia.  She and Cornwell did not get along which allegedly prompted her firing. 
 
“Halter said “their agenda was to get rid of me. “
 
In a letter from the Village of Cahokia attorney, the village admits it owes her nearly $23,000 in pay and benefits even though state law says she should have received it all when she was terminated. 
 
Now she is suing for $150,000 in damages for terminating her contract. She’s one of several former employees who sued the village. 
 
Cornwell fired longtime general manager of the village-owned golf course, Schooner Fitzgerald and replaced him with his father, Fred Cornwell. 
 
Fred Cornwall told News 4 that another paid employee actually replaced Schooner but that he really runs the place. 
 
“I can see where people criticize that it looks bad but things are going very well there. Things are going better,” Mayor Cornwell said of the golf course management. 
 
Twice during the last five years, the owners of Stingers Restaurant have received TIF tax incentives from the village. Once in 2008 to build a restaurant that was later destroyed in a fire. Records show that the restaurant got a $68,000 tax incentive that was granted under the previous mayor and it helped offset their costs. 
 
When they reopened recently, it was partially due to another $25,000 in TIF funds, making the grand total $93,000. 
 
The Mayor admits one of the owners is a village employee and a friend.
“No I’m not ashamed that they asked for some assistance and they received it. I think it’s; reasonable,” Mayor Cornwell said. 
 
Mayor Cornwell insists he’s doing a great job, that he’s improved public safety and public works in just two years. 
 

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