Women lead the way in embezzlement cases

Men commit more crime than women but there's one category where women hold the distinction – embezzlement.

In a national trend that is playing out in series of Sonoma County cases, women are more often arrested on charges of stealing from employers, churches or community organizations.

Their dominance is likely a result of the positions they occupy such as bookkeepers and bank tellers that allow greater access to financial records, checking accounts and cash, experts say.

And a perception that women are more trustworthy than men may lead to even more opportunity to misappropriate funds, said Richard Scott, a Santa Rosa lawyer specializing in embezzlement defense.

"I don't think it's that the morals of men are any better," said Scott, whose clients have been women in 13 of 15 cases involving thefts of $100,000 or more. "It's just that they are in jobs where they handle money."

Local authorities said that appears to be the situation in a number of embezzlement cases this year each involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The latest struck the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa, where business manager Eleanor Zapanta, 51 of Guerneville, is accused of taking more than $712,000 over a seven-year period.

Zapanta was arrested in September and charged with writing more than 250 unauthorized checks in amounts ranging from about $100 to nearly $13,000 each. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.

Also last month, Lake County authorities charged bookkeeper Tracey Avila, 50, of embezzling $61,000 from the Elem Band of Pomo Indians. She is accused of giving herself unauthorized pay raises, unauthorized benefits and taking advances without paying them back from 2006 to 2008.

A month earlier, police arrested Sheila Accornero, 42, then the finance manager of Kids Street Learning Center charter school in Santa Rosa, on charges she embezzled nearly $400,000. The Cloverdale woman is accused of forging the principal's name on checks to herself over a 2.5-year period. Her credit union became suspicious of her account and reported it to authorities, police said.

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