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Plea talk in Santa Rosa church embezzlement case

The lawyer for a Guerneville woman accused of embezzling more than $712,000 from a Santa Rosa church said Wednesday settlement talks are underway.

Eleanor Zapanta, 51, the former business manager at Center for Spiritual Living on Occidental Road, is charged with stealing the money over a seven-year period, from 2004-2010.

She faces a maximum 12 years in state prison but is hoping for an agreement with the judge to limit her incarceration to three years, according to sources familiar with the case. Zapanta has no criminal record.

Neither prosecutors nor Zapanta's lawyer would disclose any negotiations.

"I believe we're getting closer to a settlement in this matter," Zapanta's lawyer, Richard Scott, told Judge Ken Gnoss Wednesday morning.

The next hearing was set for Nov. 22.

Zapanta, who has remained in custody since her September arrest, looked on in a blue jail uniform at a hearing Wednesday.

A half-dozen church members attended the hearing. They declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

Zapanta has pleaded not guilty. A settlement would require her to change her plea and agree to a determinate sentence or let the judge decide her punishment.

Zapanta is accused of writing about 250 unauthorized checks to herself while working at the church. It was the largest in a string of suspected embezzlements on the North Coast this year, including one involving more than $400,000.


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