Michelle Sopko / photo from Cook County Sheriff's office
Updated: June 14, 2014 6:23AM
An Oak Forest woman who, along with her husband, is accused of embezzling about $352,000 from a fire protection district is considering pleading guilty in an agreement with Cook County prosecutors.
No specific plea offer has been made to Michelle Sopko, who will meet next month with prosecutors and the judge in her case, it was disclosed during a court hearing on Monday.
She and her husband, Charles, are accused of stealing the money from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District over 30 months from 2009 through 2012. Charles Sopko, suspended after his arrest from his job as deputy fire chief in Oak Forest, is not involved in any plea bargaining, his attorney said.
The couple appeared Monday at a brief hearing before Circuit Court Judge John Hynes. The Sopkos, arrested and charged in December, were released on bail but are under house arrest, requiring Hynes’ approval for certain types of travel.
At the June 23 conference Hynes scheduled, options in a plea agreement will be discussed with Michelle Sopko and her lawyer, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O’Malley said.
A pre-sentencing investigation report for her was filed Monday, O’Malley said, and Sopko has gathered letters from family and friends that would be given to Hynes to try to persuade him to be lenient in sentencing the mother of three.
Sopko worked for the Palos Heights fire district for four years as a part-time bookkeeper and administrative assistant. She is charged with, among other things, felony theft, conducting a financial crimes enterprise and forgery.
Prosecutors contend that Sopko relied on a ghost-payrolling scheme that had the district paying two fictional employees and also paid herself for overtime she didn’t work. To conceal the theft, she created false financial reports, according to prosecutors.
Sopko was fired from her job in December 2012 after Fire Chief Timothy Sarhage discovered that she had signed the fire district treasurer’s name on a check without the treasurer’s knowledge or consent, according to the fire district.
Charles Sopko is an Oak Forest Park District commissioner. His wife resigned in January as a school board member in Arbor Park District 145.
Michelle Sopko told the SouthtownStar in March that her husband had nothing to do with the alleged embezzlement scheme. Jason Danielian, Charles’ lawyer, has insisted that his client was in the dark about the stolen funds and didn’t learn that he and his wife were being investigated until days before their arrest.