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FORMER EMPLOYEE ARRESTED FOR THEFT FROM FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT

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Thursday, December 19, 2013 Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today that a former Palos Heights Fire Protection District administrative assistant was arrested today after an investigation found that she had taken more than $350,000 from her former employer.

Michelle Sopko, 45, of Oak Forest, was arrested on a $400,000 cash warrant this morning at her home after an investigation by the Cook County Sheriff’s Financial Crimes Unit and the Palos Heights Police Department. Her husband, Charles Sopko, 47, an Oak Forest Fire Department deputy chief, was also arrested this morning, also on a $400,000 cash warrant.

Michelle Sopko and Charles Sopko have each been charged with one count of theft of governmental property over $100,000, a class X felony. They are both scheduled to appear for a hearing tomorrow (Friday) at the Bridgeview Courthouse.

Earlier this year, the new Palos Heights Fire Protection District chief requested the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office and Palos Heights Police to investigate discrepancies in the district’s financial records that occurred prior to his arrival.

According to the joint investigation, from May 2009 to December 2012, Michelle Sopko diverted a total of approximately $352,000 of the fire protection district’s funds to a joint bank account she shared with her husband.

Michelle Sopko had worked as a part-time administrative assistant for the district from October 2008 until December 2012, when she was terminated for unrelated reasons. As part of her job duties she prepared and issued payroll checks and paid district expenses.
The Palos Heights Fire Protection District receives all its funds from tax levies assessed on district residents.

Sheriff Dart reminds the public that the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty by the government in a court of law.

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