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$500,000 embezzlement suspected at Center for Spiritual Living

Police are investigating a suspected embezzlement at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa that members said totaled $500,000.

The alleged theft was announced to congregants following Sunday services on Sept. 11 for the Occidental Road center, which has about 1,000 members.

"It's very sad," said Norma Miller, a 20-year member who heard the announcement along with several hundred others from senior minister Edward Viljoen. "If people would follow what the faith says it would be wonderful. But people won't do that."

Police have yet to name a suspect, but confirmed that an investigation is underway. Det. Mike Lazzarini of the Santa Rosa police property crimes unit said information has been forwarded to the district attorney's office for possible filing of charges.

Lazzarini would not discuss details or confirm an amount believed to have been stolen but said it will generate "a lot of community interest" when it is released.

"It's under investigation," Lazzarini said. "There is an embezzlement that has occurred at the church."

Viljoen did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week and last week. Chief operating officer Jan Davis also declined to discuss it, as have several board members.

Miller said Viljoen and board members discussed the theft in detail with members. She said the money was stolen by a well-known employee over a period of time.

The person was writing checks to herself, Miller said. It was discovered when two board members became suspicious, she said.

"It seems to happen to a lot of non-profits these days," said Miller, who organizes the senior spirit group. "It's unbelievable."

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