Santa Rosa church embezzler sentenced to six years in prison

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.

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