Hanover Township's former welfare director was sentenced to six years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to stealing more than $100,000 in government funds.
Aurea Picasso, 45, formerly of Aurora, had been accused of stealing $193,110 from the township's welfare funds, to which she had access, for her own personal use.
The charge was filed last October, just one day before Picasso was supposed to be released from jail after a year's imprisonment for an identity theft conviction unrelated to her former job at the township.
The Daily Herald chronicled the investigation into the township's missing funds in May of last year.
Hanover Township Supervisor Brian McGuire had begun looking into financial discrepancies that fell under Picasso's responsibility soon after he took office.
He'd fired Picasso the day after he became supervisor in May 2009 because he said he didn't like the way she treated clients -- even before there was a suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.
McGuire's predecessor, current Bartlett Village President Michael Kelly, has said that he once trusted Picasso implicitly and that the entire township board of trustees shared in the responsibility if any theft took place. Kelly could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
McGuire, a political rival, has said Kelly alone had the authority and oversight to have prevented the thefts because he signed the checks. At the time she was hired, Picasso had a 2003 conviction for stealing from public aid, but Kelly and the township attorney said they didn't know that at the time.
"We are pleased that the case is now closed and that Ms. Picasso has been convicted of stealing from those who needed help the most," McGuire said in a written statement Wednesday.
"Since discovery of this theft, the township has made numerous changes to the way General Assistance is distributed along with a reorganization of the department," he added. "Every township trustee is now a deputy director of the department and has access to files at a moment's notice. The department director now reports to a professional administrator and regular compliance checks are conducted."
Prosecutors from the Cook County State's Attorney's office said Picasso wrote $124,560 in checks from township accounts to pay for such personal expenses as dental work, car insurance, cellphones and her daughter's "Sweet 16" birthday party.
They added that she also enrolled family, friends and others for welfare benefits and then forged their signatures and deposited the fund in her bank account, which allowed 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 in a news release, thanking Hanover Township officials for their 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. To date, seven of the defendants have pleaded guilty, with three of them receiving six-year prison sentences.