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Former Hanover Twp. welfare chief accused of stealing $200K

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

One day before she was scheduled to be paroled on identity theft charges, a former Aurora resident has been charged with stealing nearly $200,000 from needy families during the time she was welfare director for Hanover Township.

On Monday, Aurea Picasso, 45, was charged with theft from a government agency. She is accused of stealing funds from Hanover Township’s welfare program, where she was director from 2003 to 2009, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said in a press release.

Picasso was scheduled to be paroled today after serving part of a three-year sentence for an unrelated identity theft conviction.

The new theft charges stem from an investigation that began in July 2009 after Hanover Township officials noticed irregularities in the way the township’s general assistance checks were distributed, according to a statement Monday from township Supervisor Brian McGuire. After further investigation, the township notified the state’s attorney’s office of “administrative malfeasances,” McGuire said.

As welfare director for Hanover Township, Picasso was responsible for providing welfare checks and running the township’s food pantry. Prosecutors said that during that time, Picasso had access to the township’s checkbooks and a checking account provided by the Salvation Army for emergency situations. Picasso is accused of writing $124,560 in checks to pay for personal dental work, car insurance, cell phones, and bills for her daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday party, prosecutors said.

Picasso also is accused of signing up family and friends for township welfare benefits. When those checks were processed by the township, Picasso is accused of forging signatures and depositing the money into her personal account. She took an additional $68,550 this way, prosecutors said. In total, Picasso is accused of taking $193,110, prosecutors said.

“While residents have a right to be saddened and upset, they should also know the previous township supervisor could have prevented this with oversight and accountability,” McGuire said in a statement to the press, referring to his predecessor, Michael Kelly. “Few, if any, safeguards were in place to monitor the monies of (Picasso’s) department. A simple background check would have revealed previous concerns.”

The township has made numerous changes to the way general assistance is distributed since the investigation into Picasso began, according to McGuire. The department also has been reorganized, he said. McGuire took office in May 2009.

Picasso is the 11th person charged in Operation Cookie Jar, a Cook County investigation into theft or financial crimes by public employees.

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