CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–October 26, 2010. The former welfare director of a northwest suburban government township is the latest public official to be charged in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s ongoing crackdown on local public corruption, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced yesterday.
Aurea Picasso, 45, formerly of Aurora, has been charged with Theft from a Government Entity, a Class X felony punishable by six to 30 years in prison. The former Director of Welfare for Hanover Township, Picasso is alleged to have stolen nearly $200,000 in township funds for personal use.
Picasso is scheduled to appear in Central Bond Court today at 11:45 am at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. She was expected to be transported from the Dwight Correctional Facility where she has been serving a prison term for an unrelated identity theft case. She had been scheduled to be released on parole today. Picasso is the eleventh individual to be charged in “Operation Cookie Jar,” an ongoing investigative operation begun last May that targets public or government employees accused of theft or other financial crimes at the local level.
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 for bills 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.
“Any theft of public money is intolerable, but stealing government funds intended to help families who needed food or welfare assistance may be a new low in Cook County corruption,” Alvarez said. “There is simply no tolerance for the theft of public money and we will prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”
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.
State’s Attorney Alvarez thanked township officials for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
The public is reminded that criminal charging documents contain allegations that are not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.