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Oak Forest Fire Deputy Chief, Wife Arrested for Alleged Embezzlement (Updated)

Area police officers swarmed the couple's Oak Forest home Thursday, gathering personal possessions for evidence as part of an investigation into money diverted from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District.

Charles Sopko, along with his wife, is charged with embezzling $350,000 from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District. Credit: Palos Heights Police Department
Charles Sopko, along with his wife, is charged with embezzling $350,000 from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District. Credit: Palos Heights Police Department
UPDATED, 12:55 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19: Comments from City of Oak Forest officials.

Oak Forest resident Michelle Sopko and her husband Charles Sopko, an Oak Forest deputy fire chief, were arrested Thursday morning on charges of embezzling $350,000 from the Palos Heights Fire Protection District.

Michelle and Charles Sopko were each charged with felony theft of government property over $100,000, according to the Cook County Sheriff's Department. That is a Class X felony. Police descended on the couple's Oak Forest home Thursday, seizing computers and other electronics, reports a neighbor. 

Michelle Sopko worked at the fire district as a part-time administrative assistant, from October 2008 through December 2012. She is accused of redirecting the district's money to the couple’s joint bank account.

Michelle Sopko was arrested during a traffic stop and her husband was taken into custody at the couple's home in the 5200 block of Kathleen Court, according to the Palos Heights Police Department.

In a news release, Palos Heights Police Chief George L. Yott, Jr. remarked on the arrest. 

“Although the Palos Heights Fire Protection is not a City of Palos Heights agency, we are saddened that someone who was put in a position of the public trust would violate that trust," Yott said. 

The investigation began on Feb. 4, 2013 when the Palos Heights Police Department was notified of missing funds from the fire protection district, police said. 

An investigation was then launched that included the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Financial Crimes Unit and the Palos Heights Police Department.  Police say that members of the Oak Forest Police Department played an important role during the investigation and ultimate arrest of the couple. 

Michelle Sopko also is a member of the Arbor Park School District 145 Board of Education. Charles Sopko is currently the vice president of the Oak Forest Park District.

The couple is currently being held at the Palos Heights Police Department where they will spend the night before appearing in bond court on Friday, Dec. 20. 

Charles Sopko has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, according to a release by the City of Oak Forest.

“We expect the highest standards of ethics from our staff and we will conduct a thorough internal investigation,” City Administrator Troy Ishler stated in the release. “Once that investigation is complete,  we will review the status of his employment.” 

Other city officials also released statements concerning the arrest:
  • “I am stunned by this arrest. … This will not affect the fire department from providing outstanding services to the public.” —Oak Forest Fire Chief Terry Lipinski
  • “It is a difficult time when a public servant is arrested. However, this arrest is not related to his duty as deputy fire chief for the City of Oak Forest and I want to be clear that we will continue to cooperate with the investigation as needed.”—Mayor Henry Kuspa 
-Updated, 12:15 p.m. 
Just saying December 20, 2013 at 04:46 PM
And now they get to spend the whole weekend in jail plus come up with 400k each in order to get out. No ill will against the kids or family but maybe Michelle should have thought about the kids
The Coach December 20, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Do they have to post full amount of bail or post 10%.
Michael M. December 20, 2013 at 06:24 PM
10%
PAT FETTA December 20, 2013 at 10:06 PM
Unfortunately, the ones who will suffer are the children. Why is it these people are only caught when somebody picks up some suspicious activity or forged signatures. I worked in the Claim Department for a major shipping company for 20 years. Every 6 months our corporate office conducted an audit to ensure accuracy in our payouts. One of our most trusted employee was putting money in her own checking account. We were shocked. This happens all the time. Audits are so worth the time in these villages. Just a suggestion!!
OF December 21, 2013 at 09:33 AM
They were both involved with a Oak Fest as well.
jack hess December 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Didn't oak forest years ago have a problem with a deputy fire chief? What was his name Lindsay ? Ask yourself why were they both charged? Maybe because they both knew where the money came from.
john December 21, 2013 at 02:41 PM
yes lindsay laycos he rebuilt his house with the tax apyers money at home depot you think someone that replaces someone who steals money like he did you would have enough brains not to do it again??
Bob Laird December 21, 2013 at 03:07 PM
John, yep, just like our long line of governors!
NANCY GRACE December 22, 2013 at 07:56 AM
Just comical how people could say he didn't know what was going on...my husband and i share a joint account and i can assure you that at some point a red flag would arise if "mystery money" repeatedly was deposited into our account...he knew, next excuse.
Harry Callahan December 22, 2013 at 08:20 AM
@SAM,You are one piece of art,people like you that make these comments of others about proper use of words to me is that your 1 BIG AH period no ifs or butts about it now are you going to send me to the principals office.
CitizenKane December 22, 2013 at 10:39 AM
Michael M. You are wrong and Coach to answer your question: They are being held on a $400,000 Warrant, not a bond as of yet, which in Cook County they have to pay the entire amount ($400,000) to get out of jail, but since they can't they remain in jail. They DO NOT have a bail amount, that's what Fridays BOND COURT hearing was for. Bail and Bond are used interchangeably. The Judge will hear both sides arguments on Monday to determine the bail amount (Obviously the defendants will argue for a lesser amount and the prosecution will argue for a higher amount). ONCE he issues a number (ex. $200,000 BOND) then they can post a 10% D-Bond which would be $20,000. They can each receive different bail amounts so the number you see will be for each individual, they are being arraigned separately with separate lawyers so everything from this point on will be individualized. I hope this helped accurately answer your question.
Sam December 22, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Harry, Thanks, I think I'm a great piece of art as well. Let's keep the comments to the story that we're commenting on.
NANCY GRACE December 23, 2013 at 09:45 AM
Did they have access to Oak Forest Park district finances?
Oak Forest December 23, 2013 at 02:42 PM
I really hope they are looking at Oak Fest very carefully. I know first hand that Michelle and other family members of her's worked Oak Fest and had many Opportunities to take money without anyone knowing. With it being mostly cash not tracked very well. Write everything down on paper that can easily be changed. Kinda of fishy 2 years ago there was little money to be made. This is why one person should never have so much control. Hopefully all orgainizations audit everything she has touched.
jack hess December 23, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Hope the Judge and A.S.A check to see where they get the money for the Bond. When they do bond out. The court should put a stop on all their bank accounts.
Oak Lawn Resident December 23, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Clearly, there are a number of internal control deficiencies. Palos Heights' internal audit function should have been able to identify and mitigate these risks if their methodology followed a risk-based approach. Palos should strongly consider reviewing their current internal audit function to determine the auditors competence and capability to serve as Palos Heights' third line of defense.
Michael M. December 23, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Some details of the alleged crime are at the link below. Allegedly there is some identity theft, possible health insurance fraud, and stealing from ambulance rebate accounts due citizens. http://southtownstar.suntimes.com/news/24559518-418/prosecutors-detail-oak-forest-couples-alleged-fire-dept-fraud-scheme.html
OF December 25, 2013 at 06:16 AM
This may be another case of Affluenza, you never know. No IPads and IPhones under the Christmas tree this year.
Acajudi December 28, 2013 at 09:55 AM
Greed will never stop, when you are basically dishonest. You reap what you so, and a good name is gold. Think if you are stealing!
Acajudi December 28, 2013 at 09:56 AM
sow. Please be honest! Karma!
George January 01, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Their all stealing in Oak Forest the Park District, Oak Forest Raiders run by Simeon who steaks for his business.
Sue1 January 02, 2014 at 03:38 AM
@George- what are you saying? Everyone steals in Oak Forest? Everyone involved with the park district steals? Oak Forest Raiders, who is Simeon? What is steaks for his business?
Bob Laird January 03, 2014 at 09:08 PM
Sue, georges comment was a little odd. hangover maybe?
debra January 08, 2014 at 08:41 PM
they may be wrong ,but you dont know anything,except for what you read in the media.this didnt happen over night it was 2 to 3 years,my husband and many of my friends,husbands dont have a clue what we spend or whats in the bank.i love your acid tounges,your the people who go to church every sunday drink beer and hook up with anything that will let you.didnt like the judgement,well thats how you,are judgeing with out knowing,i dont believe locking,people up with rapist,murderers,pedophiles,those people belong in cages,but breaking a family up,over money makes me sick,there should be punishment,but not that,
Jim K January 08, 2014 at 11:35 PM
Yeah, men are drunks and have no morals and have no clue what the wives are doing. That was all quite insulting. There is a great deal I can judge you on based solely on the entry you posted. Get a clue lady. It is quite clear the family is in turmoil due to the bad choices made. The law of the land will prevail and accountability will be fulfilled. Stay tuned.
Michael M. January 11, 2014 at 11:36 AM
Get off your high horse. The courts represent the people and we have every right to discuss alleged crimes against us. If the kids do read this; then they can discuss it with their parents and their parents can apologize to the kids.
Michael M. January 11, 2014 at 11:45 AM
Looks like her comment was deleted.
George January 11, 2014 at 12:37 PM
I agree Michael M.
Michael M. February 08, 2014 at 07:56 PM
Here is an update on the Sopkos. Dated Feb. 7 http://southtownstar.suntimes.com/news/25443754-418/oak-forest-couple-pleads-not-guilty-to-felony-theft-other-charges.html
debra March 18, 2014 at 06:30 PM
no my comment was not deleted.why would your stupid common be on there then,i wasnt on a high horse i was judgeing without knowing you just like you are with them

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