Woman stole $712k from church

People express their spirituality in different ways – and for one California woman that apparently meant embezzling over half a million dollars from the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.

Eleanor Jane Zapanta, 51, served as the business manager of the Occidental Road Church from 2004 to 2010. She managed to steal $712,000 from the nondenominational church, spending it on shopping sprees, personal items and restaurants.

Although her 250 forged checks forced the church to impose a 10 percent pay cut on employees and terminate an assistance program for members, Zapanta’s lawyer Richard Scott says she is a “very spiritual person.”

Some of the checks Zapanta wrote were for more than $12,000, but it wasn’t until nine months after Zapanta was laid off that the new business manager discovered the fraud.

Zapanta agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors Monday, pleading no contest to a felony count of grand theft with an enhancement for embezzling more than $500,000.

Although a recent law allows non-violent criminals to serve their time in county jail, Judge Ken Gnoss said she will be sent to a state prison. “In my mind there is no doubt this is a state prison sentence.”

Zapanta will be sentenced May 8, and several church members are expected to attend. She is expected be sentenced to prison until sometime in 2014, assuming good behavior.