Charles Sopko, accused embezzler, gets a little more breathing room
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org July 2, 2014 7:58PM
Charles Sopko | Cook County Sheriff's Office
Updated: August 4, 2014 11:56AM
Charles Sopko — accused with his wife of embezzling from a local fire protection district — is getting a little more freedom.
A Cook County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday supported a defense motion to modify terms of Sopko’s house arrest.
He and his wife, Michelle, are accused of stealing about $350,000 from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District over 30 months from 2009 through 2012.
Charles Sopko’s attorney, Jason Danielian, told Judge John Hynes that Sopko needed the terms of his confinement modified, particularly in light of the fact that his wife appears set to enter a guilty plea in the case and faces prison time. The couple are no longer living together in their Oak Forest home.
Michelle 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.
Sopko and her lawyer met last month with Hynes and prosecutors in the case to discuss a possible plea deal. It was unclear what charge, or charges, she might plead guilty to. She’s next due to appear before Hynes on July 28.
In arguing for reduced restrictions on his client’s movements, including “unfettered access” to the couple’s three children, Danielian said that Charles Sopko had never failed to appear for a scheduled court date and is “hardly a flight risk.”
The lawyer said it was “highly unlikely (Sopko) would do anything other than remain law-abiding.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O’Malley said Hynes shouldn’t loosen the reins on Sopko, noting the seriousness of the crime and that he “holds a position of public trust” as an Oak Forest Park District commissioner.
Sopko had initially been on electronic monitoring following his arrest.
His wife resigned in January as a school board member in Arbor Park District 145.
Charles Sopko was suspended after his arrest last December from his job as deputy fire chief in Oak Forest, and he recently was stripped of the deputy chief position. He had been on unpaid leave since his arrest.
He also holds the rank of lieutenant in the fire department, and city aldermen last month voted to reinstate his pay at that level, although he is not returning to active duty, at least at this time.
One of the earlier restrictions on Sopko’s movements, lifted by Hynes on Wednesday, was that he faced a nightly curfew. Danielian had sought the removal of that curfew as part of his client’s bid to return to work full time.
Before voting at the June 24 city council meeting to restore Sopko’s pay, aldermen had also considered the possibility of allowing him to return to the fire department, Ald. James Hortsman (6th) said. The city attorney advised the council, however, that doing so could present the city with other liability issues, the alderman said Wednesday.
Danielian, after Wednesday’s hearing, said his client wants to come back to the department.
“We’re trying to get him back to work,” he said.
Michelle Sopko told the SouthtownStar in March that her husband had nothing to do with the alleged embezzlement scheme. Danielian 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.