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Former Harvey Park District official accused of stealing

Dionne Cooper | Cook County Sheriff's Department

A former executive director of the Harvey Park District, already facing charges of stealing more than $100,000 from the Cook County assessor’s office, swiped money from the beleaguered south suburb’s park district too, prosecutors said Thursday.

Dionne Cooper — while out on bond awaiting trial for the assessor’s office case — used a debit card issued to her by the Harvey Park District to buy liquor, gift cards, luggage, clothing, underwear, hair braids, groceries and meals at restaurants, Assistant State’s Attorney Jean McGuire said.

But Cooper’s attorney, J. Scott Arthur, told reporters the new charges stemmed from a vendetta by park district commissioner Anthony McCaskill, whom Cooper sued last year in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit.

Arthur also said State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez only charged his client for political purposes to show how vigilant she is with public corruption.

Alvarez said in a news release: “The theft of public money by individuals who are in a position of public trust is always egregious, but the theft from a park district of funds intended to support children and families in the community of Harvey is absolutely outrageous and offensive and it will not be tolerated.”

While the prosecutors office said the amount Cooper stole from the park district has not been determined, McGuire told Judge Laura Sullivan it was more than $500 but less than $10,000. The alleged theft from the Harvey Park District took place between July 2013 and September 2014.

Arthur said that Cooper, 45, admitted she used the park district debit card to pay for a $374 tattoo and a $130 men’s watch when she was in Florida.

Cooper, who was fired from her park district job in 2014, offered to pay back the $504, Arthur said.

McCaskill declined to comment on Cooper’s new theft and official misconduct case but said the charges “have nothing to do with me.”

“I assume it’s the state’s attorney’s office doing its job,” he said.

In court, Arthur said McCaskill initially told the Harvey Police Department that Cooper stole $42,000. Then, in a filing in federal court, McCaskill reduced the stolen amount to $19,000, Arthur said.

Arthur said he went over each expense with Cooper and she indicated that besides the watch and tattoo, the items and expenses she is accused of spending for herself were for events McCaskill ordered or outings with underprivileged children.

Sullivan set bail at $50,000 for Cooper in the park district case. Judge Lawrence Flood added $15,000 bail because the single mother violated conditions of her bond from the 2013 assessor’s office case.

In the assessor’s office case, Cooper, of Hazel Crest, allegedly submitted and processed 100 fraudulent applications for refunds for overpaid property taxes, known as Certificates of Error, that were given to her by a cohort while she worked as a clerk at the assessor’s office.

The checks, which were issued by the Cook County treasurer, were then mailed to Cooper’s accomplice, and the two eventually split the $112,341.92, prosecutors said.

Cooper is the mother of D.J. Cooper, a former Seton Academy basketball star.

In her federal lawsuit against McCaskill, Cooper alleges that when they attended a convention in Houston in October 2013, he told her to “make sure that her and his hotel rooms were not far apart.”

In February 2014, McCaskill ordered Cooper to fire the district’s superintendent of recreation, according to the suit.

He told her, “It’s going to be you or her. I promise you you’ll be sorry. You ditched me in Texas. You dissed me in Chicago. Now, I’m giving you an order and you’re disobeying me. You will be punished,” according to the suit.