When the Rich Township High School District 227 board was deciding in 2014 whether to award a former associate principal more than $140,000 in back pay and attorney fees as part of a retirement dispute, board member Emmanuel Imoukhuede voted to cough up the money.

In fact, he cast the deciding vote so the payout was approved 4-3, records show.

Turns out the ex-administrator receiving the money was Imoukhuede’s wife, Bridget Imoukhuede, and they’re now both embroiled in another dispute – facing a lawsuit from District 227 accusing Emmanuel Imoukhuede of acting improperly and violating the system’s nepotism policy that says board members “will not participate” in employment decisions concerning their relatives.

Emmanuel Imoukhuede, who lost reelection to the board last year, declined to comment, while his wife didn’t return calls. Their attorney blamed the school district, saying it did not have to count Emannuel Imoukhuede’s vote.

The turmoil comes at a tough time for the district, which is financially struggling and serves more than 3,000 students in Chicago Heights, Country Club Hills, Matteson, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Richton Park, Tinley Park and University Park.

The district lost 728 students from 2011 to 2015 and has seen annual state aid decline by $5.4 million over the past six years. What’s more, District 227 was forced to allocate $7.5 million in state money last year to Richton Park-based Southland College Prep Charter High School, a nonprofit that opened in 2010.

The district has already spent more than $50,000 on the suit against the couple and a related case as it seeks to recover the money paid out to Bridget Imoukhuede.

The District 227 board suspended her without pay and moved to fire her on Aug. 6, 2013, alleging that she suspended and expelled students without authorization at the district’s alternative school she was helping run. She resigned the next day and applied for her pension, which she began receiving a few months later.

Meanwhile, Bridget Imoukhuede contested her dismissal and an Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer recommended overturning the District 227 board’s decision. But the district’s lawsuit contends that Bridget Imoukhuede was not entitled to the hearing since she was retired and did not tell the hearing officer about the retirement.

Emmanuel Imoukhuede (right) voted to give his wife Bridget Imoukhuede (left)

Former Rich Township High School District 227 board member Emmanuel Imoukhuede (right) voted to give his wife Bridget Imoukhuede (left), a former associate principal, $144,000 in back pay and attorney fees in 2014.

Nevertheless, the District 227 board, including Emmanuel Imoukhuede, voted on June 9, 2014, to award Bridget Imoukhuede lost income and attorney fees.

According to the meeting minutes, Emmanuel Imoukhuede said he was just “following the recommendation from the hearing officer.”

The next month, the board voted along the same lines to pay Bridget Imoukhuede $109,792 in back salary for the 2013-2014 school year and $34,932 for attorney fees.

Citing the school system’s nepotism policy, Olympia Fields resident Fred Veazy sued the district in July 2014 seeking to rescind the board’s votes on the payment and return the money to the district. A Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled against him, and the matter is now before the Illinois Appellate Court.

Veazy declined to comment, referring the matter to his attorney, Clinton Krislov, who said Emmanuel Imoukhuede “should have abstained from voting on his wife’s matter” even if the board was deadlocked.

In an October 2014 school board meeting, District 227 attorney John Relias raised concerns about Bridget Imoukhuede’s payout, according to interviews. Later, Bridget Imoukhuede repaid about $55,000 in pension money to the state. Emmanuel Imoukhuede and the majority of the District 227 board voted in the November 2014 meeting to fire Relias’ law firm, Chicago-based Franczek Radelet.

Emmanuel Imoukhuede lost the April 2015 election and a new District 227 board was sworn in. In its first meeting, the board rehired Franczek Radelet as counsel and the district filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the Imoukhuedes.

The suit says Bridget Imoukhuede was ineligible to receive the payout because she was retired and already collecting her pension.

“We have to hold people accountable,” said District 227 board president Antoine Bass, who had opposed the payout to Bridget Imoukhuede in previous votes. “We can’t let $100,000 go unchecked because it’s taxpayer dollars at the end of the day.”

Under the direction of the new board, District 227 also reversed its opposition to the Veazy lawsuit, and filed a motion in support of it with the appellate court.

Relias declined comment. District 227 has spent $51,248 in legal fees on the Imoukhuede lawsuit and the Veazy case, records show.

In its lawsuit against the Imoukhuedes, District 227 alleges the money given to the couple “could have been used by the District to pay for items that directly benefit students.”

Casey Toner, a Chicago native, has been an Illinois Answers reporter since 2016, taking the lead on numerous projects about criminal justice and politics. His series on police shootings in suburban Cook County resulted in a state law requiring procedural investigations of all police shootings in Illinois. Before he joined Illinois Answers, he wrote for the Daily Southtown and was a statewide reporter for Alabama Media Group, a consortium of Alabama newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys watching soccer and writing music.