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Guerneville woman takes plea bargain in church embezzlement case

A Guerneville woman who embezzled $712,000 from the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa will be sentenced to six years in prison under a plea bargain reached Monday with prosecutors.

Eleanor Jane Zapanta, 51, had faced up to eight years in prison for taking the money from 2004 to 2010 while she was business manager of the Occidental Road church.

She accepted the deal on the eve of a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Under the state's sentencing laws, which allow time off for good behavior, Zapanta will be released from prison sometime in 2014, said her lawyer, Richard Scott.

"She is ready to do her penance," Scott said after her hearing. "She's a very spiritual person."

Church members who showed up to court declined to comment.

Prosecutor Bill Brockley said he will seek repayment of the money, which he said Zapanta spent on shopping sprees, buying personal items and going to restaurants.

She stole it over a seven-year period by forging checks and falsifying the church's computer accounting system. Some of the 250 forged checks were for more than $12,000.

"Restitution will be part of the sentence," Brockley said. "She will have to pay it while serving her prison sentence and thereafter."

Church officials said the theft forced them to cut employees pay by 10 percent and terminate an assistance program for members. The nondenominational church operates on a $1.5 million budget.

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