Funds Intended for Needy Families Stolen to Pay Personal Bills & Daughter’s ‘Sweet 16’ Birthday Party
CHICAGO—(ENEWSPF)—August 4, 2011. The former welfare director of a northwest suburban government township charged in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s ongoing crackdown on local public corruption has pled guilty, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced yesterday.
Aurea Picasso, 45, formerly of Aurora, pled guilty today to one count of theft of government funds over $100,000 and was sentenced to six years in prison during a court appearance this morning.
According to prosecutors, Picasso served as Welfare Director for Hanover Township from 2003 until 2009. This department was responsible for providing welfare checks to the needy and also ran a food pantry to provide additional assistance.
While serving as director, the defendant had access the township’s checkbooks as well as an additional checking account provided by the Salvation Army for emergency situations. Picasso is alleged to have written $124,560 in checks from these accounts to pay for dental work, car insurance, cell phones, and expenses for her daughter’s ‘Sweet 16’ birthday party.
Picasso is also accused of enrolling family, friends, and others for welfare benefits through the Township, and when these checks were processed by the Township, Picasso would forge the signatures and deposit the funds in her bank account, allowing her to steal an additional $68,550.
“This defendant’s theft of funds to help families who needed food or welfare assistance brought corruption to a new low in Cook County,” Alvarez said. “This conviction shows we are serious about holding those accountable who use taxpayer funds for their own personal ATM machines.”
In 2009, a new administration took over in Hanover Township and officials became suspicious that funds had been diverted. Township officials contacted the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Public Corruption and Financial Crimes unit and an investigation was initiated. All told, Picasso is alleged to have stolen $193,110 in township funds.
In October of 2010, Picasso was arrested a day before she was scheduled to be released on parole from Dwight Correctional Facility where she has been serving a prison sentence for an unrelated identity theft case. Today Picasso pled guilty before Judge Vincent Gaughan who sentenced her to six years in prison.
State’s Attorney Alvarez thanked Hanover Township officials for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
The charges are part of “Operation Cookie Jar,” the State’s Attorney’s ongoing investigative operation targeting public or government employees accused of corruption at the local level. Since Anita Alvarez took office in December of 2008, her Special Prosecutions Bureau has prosecuted more than 50 defendants for public corruption offenses, including ‘Cookie Jar’ which has focused on public employees, union officials, and government contractors. To date, seven of the ‘Cookie jar’ defendants have pled guilty, with three of them receiving six-year prison sentences.