Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

Cook County prosecutors presented evidence Tuesday that a former deputy chief for the Oak Forest Fire Department had extravagant living expenses during the time his wife was embezzling about $350,000 from the fire district where she worked.

Charles Sopko is on trial before Circuit Court Judge Kerry Kennedy at the county courthouse in Bridgeview, accused of knowing of his wife’s thefts and going along with the scheme.

Sopko should have been aware that most of the money suddenly flowing into the couples’ joint bank accounts was not legitimate, according to prosecutors. They say such knowledge is sufficient for Sopko to be guilty of the charges against him — theft and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise.

Sopko’s wife, Michelle, is serving an eight-year prison term for embezzling the funds while she was a part-time administrative assistant for the Palos Heights Fire Protection District. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced in March.

She stole money from the fire district through 177 transactions over a 30-month period starting in May 2009 — paying herself overtime that she didn’t accrue and creating two “ghost” employees, diverting their pay into the couple’s bank accounts, according to prosecutors.

Cook County sheriff’s police Detective Sgt. James Hennelly, of the department’s financial crimes unit, resumed his testimony on Tuesday, giving a detailed account of the finances of Charles and Michelle Sopko during the time of the thefts from 2009 to 2012.

Citing records, Hennelly told the judge that the couple’s spending rose sharply during the period of the thefts. He said $19,831 was spent on nine trips that Charles Sopko took during that time period, including a cruise to Key West, Fla., and Cozumel in Mexico.

There also were other expenses for several hundred dollars at a time when the couple stayed at high-end hotels in downtown Chicago, Hennelly testified.

But defense attorney Jason Danielian got Hennelly to admit that Charles Sopko was legitimately on vacation during all those trips and that Hennelly made no effort to determine the nature of the trips.

“My client was not AWOL at any time” from his firefighter duties? Danielian asked.

“No, sir,” Hennelly responded.

Hennelly also testified about the many types of credit cards that were found in the Sopko residence on Cathleen Drive in Oak Forest at the time of their arrest in December 2013.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O’Malley said payments were made to those numerous credit accounts from the couples’ bank accounts where the stolen money was deposited.

Danielian tried poking holes in Hennelly’s investigative techniques, getting him to acknowledge that he never tried to verify the exact nature of the expenditures or where the money came from, beyond what was shown in the bank records.

“I couldn’t tell which items were purchased legitimately and which were not,” Hennelly said in response to one question.

Danielian also hinted that Michelle Sopko, who’s imprisoned at the Decatur Correctional Center, may have forged Charles’ signature on some documents. Hennelly said investigators had not obtained a handwriting analysis of the records.

Hennelly’s testimony took up all of Tuesday afternoon, and he is expected to resume testimony Wednesday afternoon. O’Malley has said prosecutors will rest their case once he is finished.

Danielian has said he plans to have Michelle Sopko testify that she controlled the family finances, and her husband knew nothing about her embezzlement scheme. She is expected to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.

Also from the ChicagoTribune.com:

Cook County prosecutors on Monday described a former Oak Forest deputy fire chief and his wife as a “criminal organization” for allegedly embezzling about $350,000 from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O’Malley so characterized the couple during his opening statement in the trial of Charles Sopko at the county courthouse in Bridgeview.

O’Malley said Monday that Charles Sopko is equally guilty in the embezzlement scheme because he knowingly went along and spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars — money that he should have suspected was improperly gained.

Charles Sopko “is half of a criminal organization known as the Sopko family,” O’Malley told the judge.

Detective Sgt. James Hennelly, of the Cook County sheriff’s police financial crimes unit, testified Monday that Michelle Sopko had $396,300 placed via direct deposit into her bank account during those 30 months as salary for her working two or three days per week for the fire district.

In reality, Hennelly said, she should have received only $41,602 during that period for her work, which included handling the district’s payroll.

Hennelly said money from the couple’s salaries was sent by direct deposit into a bank account in both of their names, and the extra money stolen by Michelle Sopko was then transferred to an account in Charles Sopko’s name.

Danielian insisted Monday that his client was innocent of wrongdoing. At one point, he got Palos Heights fire Chief Timothy Sarhage to say that when the fire district sued to recover the rest of the stolen funds, the lawsuit was filed against Michelle Sopko and Andy Zilis (an accountant who oversaw her work) but not against Charles Sopko.

Charles Sopko has contended since he and his wife were arrested in December 2013 that he was unaware of the embezzlement, saying his wife handled the family’s finances.

But O’Malley scoffed at that Monday, telling the judge that because of his management position in the city fire department, Sopko would have had to realize that his wife couldn’t possibly be earning such a large sum from part-time work for the fire district.

“The defendant would have to be brain-dead to not know what was going on,” he said, adding that Charles Sopko “is not brain-dead, he’s just a thief.”

Family members of Michelle Sopko have agreed to pay back $120,000 to the fire district to settle its lawsuit against her to recover the stolen funds.

thanks Dan

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