Accused Oak Forest Park District Board VP Should Resign: Commissioner

Oak Forest Deputy Fire Chief Charles Sopko retains his role as Vice President of the Oak Forest Park District—but doing so could keep the board from getting things done.

Charles and Michelle Sopko. | File photo.
Charles and Michelle Sopko. | File photo.
Oak Forest Park District Board Vice President Charles Sopko needs to vacate his seat in light of accusations he and his wife embezzled $352,000 from Palos Heights Fire Protection District, one commissioner said. 

Sopko is unable to participate in board action because he is under house arrest while out on bail, and the potential lack of a quorum could prevent the board from handling business matters, said Commissioner Joe Conway. Park district Director Cindy Grannan isn't ready to take that same stance, however.

Some board members have discussed the possibility of his resignation, Sopko has yet to do so. In Illinois, there are only four ways for an elected official to leave office: election, resignation, criminal conviction or death.

"He needs to resign so we can carry out the business of the park district," Conway said. "We need him to resign, so we can appoint someone to fill his seat."

Michelle Sopko is charged with felony theft, conducting a financial crimes enterprise, identity theft, official misconduct and forgery. She was fired from her job as a part-time bookkeeper/administrative assistant with the fire district in December 2012. It's alleged that she funneled $352,000 from the district's payroll and accounts payable system into the couple's bank account over the course of 30 months. 

Charles Sopko, Oak Forest's deputy fire chief, faces charges of felony theft, conducting a financial criminal enterprise and forgery. He is on unpaid leave from the Oak Forest Fire Department.

Sopko has been a commissioner on the Oak Forest Park District Board since 2003, and his seat will be up for re-election in 2015. Wife Michelle resigned from her role on the Arbor Park District 145 Board of Education a month after their arrest. The board Wednesday appointed Rhonda Ceska to fill her seat for the remainder of her term.

The accusations have had a ripple effect in the community, Conway said. People have questioned the handling of the park district's funds. The park district has checks and balances instituted to detect and foil any type of financial malfeasance, said park district Director Cindy Grannan, adding the district has uncovered no wrongdoing done by Charles Sopko.

"As a board member or a commissioner, they don't handle any financial matters," Grannan told Patch. "[They handle] policy and procedures. They don't have their hands in the day-to-day operations. If you don't touch anything, there's nothing to investigate."

Still, additional care has been taken in examining the district's systems and implementing additional safeguards, she said. The district has started a more thorough purchase documentation system, as well as ensuring that all deliveries are sent to the main building before being distributed to the district's respective facilities. 

While the board had previously adopted a "wait and see" attitude about Sopko's future on the governmental body, Conway said he thinks Sopko resigning would be the best decision for all those involved.

"Hopefully it happens sooner, rather than later," Conway said. "He needs to focus on his life, his family. Taking this off his plate would probably be better for him."

Residents are concerned about the district's funds and have expressed a distrust in Sopko, Conway said.

"Whether I think he's guilty or not, that doesn't matter. It's what the public thinks," he said. 

"He's not going to be able to carry on the business of the park district."

Grannan was hesitant to call for Sopko's resignation.

"I know that we have a business to run, and that at times it's going to be a crunch, and put an undue burden on the other commissioners," she said. "But it's not my position to decide that fate."

The couple's next court date is April 3. 

Subscribe to a free email newsletter
NANCY GRACE February 28, 2014 at 07:43 AM
Well said Joe!! Cindy needs to go!!
OF February 28, 2014 at 07:48 AM
Joe Conway is a liar and an opportunist. He does not even belong on our Park District Board. I have personally witnessed his lies and how he takes opportunities to advance his LaCrosse program at the expense of another program.
Dave February 28, 2014 at 08:12 AM
Hey, Nancy Grace...Exactly why does "Cindy need to go?" What is it that she's done to warrant her removal?
HAMMER February 28, 2014 at 08:54 AM
What caught my attention in this article is that it states he is on unpaid leave from the fire department ? Is this true ? Every article up to this point has said he is on paid leave.
OF February 28, 2014 at 09:02 AM
Cindy, Stephanie and the entire support staff at our Central facility are top notch. They always have always put the children of our community first.
Marye Greenys February 28, 2014 at 09:51 AM
Ever heard of Skype or video chat? Charlie can still be included in all decision making by these means or an old fashion conference call. So what is the problem now? I think it has just been solved. Or how about a meeting held at his place of residence to keep him informed and included? There are many ways to keep Charlie active on the board. And why should Cindy go for voicing her opinion just because someone doesn't agree? This country was founded on compromise and everyday relationships need comprimise in order to work and be healthy.
OF February 28, 2014 at 10:02 AM
Looks like the "Opportunist", otherwise known as Joe Conway, may be trying to move up the Park District ladder. That is something we DO NOT NEED.
OF February 28, 2014 at 10:04 AM
How about when Joe Conway had 2 girls softball teams booted from the Park District gym so his LaCrosse team could practice early so he could watch the Superbowl. This guy is a clown and should keep his mouth shut till he is voted out.
Stuck in OF February 28, 2014 at 12:54 PM
Regardless of guilty or innocent, the charges brought against them both are very serious class x felonies. As Joe Stated it's not the board's opinion of guilt or innocent it's the community, the community of which he serves as an elected official on the PD board which serves the community of children (all ages and very impressionable). He is well known in the community as a coach, mentor and role model to these children What everyone including Cindy should be concerned with is the message that is being sent to the kids in the community that are part of the PD and other programs that the Sopko's were a part of and very active in. Again, guilty or innocent, that will be proven in court but until then, he should step away with all the negativity that his situation brings to the PD, and community.
Marye Greenys February 28, 2014 at 01:39 PM
Have you ever made a mistake and been forgiven? Do you have children? If so have you ever let them down and they forgave you and gave you another chance because they believed in you and they chose to remember all the good you did and in their eyes it outweighed the few bad things? None of us are perfect and we all have made mistakes and sinned if you believe in God and his word remember that it doesn't matter what kind of sin you committed in his eyes they are all judged the same way. That means in God's teachings that a murderer, an adulterer, a thief and so on in God's eyes are all the same. He also teaches forgiveness. So no nnd of is perfect none of us are any better than the next. What we all are is different from each other some make good choices and some make bad hopefully we all learn from the bad and are able to share our shortcomings with others so they to can learn from our mistakes. The Sopko are not hiding they aware under house arrest. However some people including governmentb officials are not subject to the he'll the S opkos are right now. Maybe if they were allowed out in the community they could work towards healing themselves as well as the community. They have not had a chance to pubically address anything maybe they would like to do so. I would hope the community we live in would give anyone the opportunity to right their wrongs before we judge them.Wouldn't that be teaching our children a great lesson "Forgivness"
Marye Greenys February 28, 2014 at 01:41 PM
Sorry for the typos.
Stuck in OF February 28, 2014 at 03:39 PM
Marye are pedofiles, child pornographers, sexual predators, black market child sex traffickers the same too?
OF February 28, 2014 at 06:45 PM
Joe Conway is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He has no clue how to serve a community but he does a great job of serving himself.
HAMMER February 28, 2014 at 07:17 PM
Ok still no answer on Charlie still getting paid or is he not like this article stated? I would hate to see my tax dollars paying for 2 deputy chiefs !?? Taxes are already way to high in this neighborhood!
Bonnie Broadrock February 28, 2014 at 11:02 PM
Marye please stop bringing the children into this. Maybe if their parents would have considered them in the first place maybe just maybe the family would not be in this situation. And the hell that you speak of that Charlie and Michelle are living in was of their own doing. No one twisted Michelle's arm and told her to take the money. She could have stopped but made a choice to take $325,00.00 and since we're on the subject how about you read 1 Timothy 6:10 - "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." They made a choice and now they have to pay the consequences, plain and simple. Maybe you should read the comment above yours by Stuck in OF and ruminate on that.
Marye Greenys March 01, 2014 at 01:53 AM
Wow some of you o guess have never made mistakes I guess. In the eyes of God yes sexual predators and all are the same as are the sins. To forgive does not mean to forget or to put yourself in harms way it means you have compassion. You can forgive and still keep your distance. They do have to live with themselves and face what they did or didn't do. I read the bible and it very vulgar and there is insest and lots of other things that are more than questionable and not right. We pick and choose from the bible as to how to interpret what it is we read. I am voicing my opinion just like the rest of you. You are entitled to your opinion as I am mine. I commend all of you for you voicing yours right or wrong just as I am mine. However I am putting my name out there my real name so if you have an opinion and you feel the need to post why not use your given names? Everyone of us are different from each other so we have different views and interpretations. What is right for me may not be right for you and we can all learn from one another. To ridicule someone or shame them for their opinion in my eyes is wrong. So like I said post away as long as it makes you happy I am happy. Life is short and I have better things to do than to ridicule someone for a post I might not agree with and I hope more of you feel this way as well if not that's okay. Have a great day and enjoy life. I applaud you all. That's all folks I am finished I have voiced my opinion or opinions just as you have yours. Nothing more to say or comment on.
jack hess March 01, 2014 at 12:51 PM
This was a CRIME not a MISTAKE!
b March 02, 2014 at 09:35 PM
Marye commiting a felony is not a "mistake". It is a serious crime. Jaywalking is a mistake. Wake up.
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 01:57 AM
@ marye Greenys I don't agree that this situation is comparable to a child being disappointed in a parent and then later forgiving them. Children are self-centered by nature and the world revolves around them. My child being disappointed or upset with me because I did not allow them to have ice cream before dinner, is not the same as people that portrayed themselves as pillars of the community and betrayed the trust of the people that believed in them. I am glad that you have such faith in your god, but could you imagine what the world would be like if we waited for a god to judge and impose punishment? Your post seems to advocate such a world. We have laws in the hope that we all co exist in a world that is civilized and follows some order. How do you respond to people that do not share your belief in a god? I do not see an instance where anyone ridiculed you or tried to shame you for your opinion, yet you mention opinions being right and wrong. An opinion cannot be wrong because it is an opinion. You seem to insinuate that if a person does not list their full name that their opinion is not valid. People find it hard to sympathize with the "hell" you claim the Sopkos find themselves in, when it was their own poor choices that put them there. Yes everyone makes "mistakes" as you say and we should learn from them. However, a mistake is usually something that happens on accident, something that wasn't intended, this clearly wasn't an accident. The funds were transferred on purpose. The fact that the residents of Oak Forest have been betrayed by others in trusted positions means the Sopkos have not learned from others' "mistakes". You are correct that people pick and choose passages from the bible that are relevant to whatever point they are trying to make. The problem with that is, they can often be countered with some other passage. As for second chances, they will receive their second chance after this is dealt with. Once through the court system, if found guilty, they will be penalized and then will get their second chance. If they are found innocent, then they will be able to say they are the pillars of the community they portrayed themselves as. As for them being under house arrest versus being out in the community, I don't know what to say. I doubt that the Sopkos would be out in the community talking to people. You say that "they have not had a chance to publicly address anything maybe they would like to do so." Don't you think that the media has been attempting to get them to say anything? If they wanted the chance to say something I think they would have it in an instant, as evidenced by the article in the paper today, where Mrs. Sopko, with carefully chosen words, states that her husband had nothing to do with the diversion of the funds.
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 02:00 AM
I have to say, I am surprised by Joe Conway's statement. I had heard that they were close friends. I do find it refreshing, whether it is self serving or not. How would it be self serving? Would he be appointed vice president? People have asked why Sopko remains on the board and some have thought he should resign. is it possible that an elected official is actually recommending that what people are asking for actually happen? It is curious.
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 02:01 AM
@OF could you expand on what instances you "have personally witnessed his lies and how he takes opportunities to advance his LaCrosse program at the expense of another program."
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 02:13 AM
@Marye Greenys regarding your post about including Charlie in Park District business via Skype, video chat, or conference call, this is not something that can just happen. What does Board policy dictate? You can't just make up rules along the way. That isn't good government. As for a meeting being held at his residence, if it can accommodate members of the community and if he would like members of the community showing up at his residence, I suppose they could do that, it is the law that meetings such as this be held in such a location where the public can attend. You can look into by searching Open Meetings Act. Keep in mind, that just as you feel that he should be allowed to participate, there are many that feel that he should not while this question is hanging over his head.
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 02:15 AM
@ Stuck in OF, great post. I agree with you entirely. I feel that if he truly cared about the town, the kids, he would step down. Just the fact that all these groups have had to be investigated because of questions concerning him, not good. If he is found not guilty, he can run again, vindicated.
Sue1 March 07, 2014 at 02:18 AM
Cindy isn't going to say anything one way or the other. The nature of her job prohibits her from it. As Director, she reports to the Board. This would be like someone going around saying their boss should quit. They aren't going to have their job very long.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something