Santa Rosa church embezzler sentenced to six years in prison
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 11:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.
A Guerneville woman who embezzled $712,000 from the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison and ordered to repay all of the money.
Eleanor Zapanta, 51, took the money from 2004 to 2010 while she was business manager for the Occidental Road church.
In a statement read in court by prosecutor Bill Brockley, the church’s leadership excoriated Zapanta for exploiting her position of trust while presenting herself as a “student of spirituality.”
“She was in fact cold-heartedly using her position to calculate the maximum taking without regard of the well-being of the people affected,” the statement said.
As a result of her theft, church employees were laid off and a financial assistance program for church families was discontinued, the statement went on to say.
Zapanta did not speak at the sentencing. Her lawyer, Richard Scott, said she was remorseful.
“It’s a very sad thing,” Scott said. “Obviously the community was hurt by that. I think she’s aware of that.”
Zapanta was charged with stealing the money by forging checks and falsifying the church’s accounting system. Prosecutors said she used the money from about 350 transactions to go on shopping sprees, buying personal items and going to restaurants.
She reached a plea bargain on the eve of her preliminary hearing. She pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft with an enhancement for stealing more than $500,000.
Under state sentencing laws and with credit for time served, she will be out in about two years.
Despite a recent change in the law that allows nonviolent criminals to serve their time in the county jail, Zapanta will go to state prison.
Zapanta was the latest to be sentenced in a string of Sonoma County embezzlement cases.
In March, Lidia Montano, 53, of Santa Rosa was sent to jail for a year after she admitted stealing $392,000 from Sonoma Golf Club, where she worked as a business manager.
Also in March, Sheila Accornero, 42, of Cloverdale was sent to a state rehabilitative center for drug addiction after she confessed to taking nearly $400,000 from Kids Street Learning Center in Santa Rosa. She too was a business manager.
“During these difficult times, law abiding citizens are working hard to stay afloat,” Brockley said. “Those who choose to cheat, embezzle and steal, law enforcement is prepared to investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.