Archive for July 23rd, 2015

Palos Fire Protection District initiates arrests for theft (more)

Excerpts from the

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

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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Request for assistance

This from Larry Shapiro:

I received this message and am unable to offer any assistance. Does anyone have any information to help Charlie?

Larry I ran across this picture a couple of months ago I am in the process of doing a complete restoration of a truck identical to this and I want mine this exact color I was wondering if you had any info on this truck or maybe its whereabouts or who I’m a talk to any information would be greatly appreciated thanks Charlie . This truck was also a fire truck

Roselle Fire Protection District 1979 gmc rescue 14 4x4

Roselle Fire Protection District 1979 gmc rescue 14 4×4. Larry Shapiro photo

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Riverside Fire Chief terminated

Excerpts from

Spencer Kimura was quietly fired from his job as chief of the Riverside Fire Department last week, shortly before the village board’s meeting on July 16. The village has not announced Kimura’s termination, but it was confirmed by village officials on Monday after a reporter noticed Kimura’s name scrubbed from the village’s website.

Village Manager Jessica Frances, who terminated Kimura in the late afternoon on July 16, had little to say about his removal as chief. Village President Ben Sells also was tight-lipped about the removal of Kimura as chief, saying, “It’s an internal personnel matter, and I’m not going to comment.”

According to Frances, the village is not providing Kimura with a severance package and there is no separate agreement. Kimura — hired in 2011 to steady the department after a tumultuous couple of years that ended when his predecessor, Kevin Mulligan, was fired — did not have a contract. His annual salary was $80,371.

Matthew Buckley, who served as Kimura’s deputy fire chief, has been named interim fire chief. Buckley, whose full-time job is deputy police chief in neighboring Lyons, will also serve part time in the fire chief’s role.

The move, said Frances, will allow her to assess the command structure of the fire department and whether any changes need to be made structurally with regard to the department, which traditionally has been staffed by a part-time chief and paid-on-call firefighters. Kimura worked 32 hours per week, according to Frances.

Frances has not launched a search for a new fire chief at this time.

A resident of the north suburbs, the 57-year-old Kimura, never entirely meshed in Riverside. A retired battalion chief with the Glenview Fire Department, Kimura was brought in to smooth the waters after Mulligan’s termination, which had split the department into factions.

Mulligan ended up suing the village and Buckley, winning a $350,000 settlement to drop the suit.

But the resentment didn’t end there. In 2014, four Riverside firefighters — including three fire lieutenants — filed a federal lawsuit against the village and Kimura, claiming they were disciplined unfairly in part because of their loyalty to Mulligan. That suit was dismissed completely by a U.S. District Court judge earlier this year.

Buckley, whose concerns over Mulligan’s on-the-job behavior triggered the village’s termination action, said he is working collaboratively with all members of the command staff.

“I’m utilizing the officer corps in a collaborative effort to make sure projects and services are maintained at the highest levels,” Buckley said. “Every one of the supervisors are on board with working collaboratively to make sure everything gets accomplished properly,” Buckley said. “We are all looking to move beyond the past and move forward.”

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