Downriver residents charged in non-profit embezzlement scam

Sunday Times Newspapers

Two Downriver residents were arraigned July 1 on charges of embezzlement from the Detroit non-profit Esperanza Detroit.

Cecilia Zavala, 35, of Wyandotte and chief operating officer of Esperanza Detroit, was charged with embezzling over $100,000 from the non-profit, designed to help at-risk youth in Detroit Public Schools. The principal of Western International High School, Rudolfo Diaz, 35, of Lincoln Park also was charged as her accomplice.

The office of the Inspector General for the Detroit Public Schools noted some irregularities in checks issued by Esperanza Detroit in April 2014. An internal audit was then conducted by a member of Esperanza Detroit and the findings were taken to the Detroit Police Department and turned over to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

Zavala is accused of using the non-profit’s credit and debit cards, from November 2011 to May 2014, without permission, to pay for restaurant bills, extravagant personal vacations, jewelry and even a new car. She also is accused of conspiring to embezzle money with Diaz from Esperanza. In all she is facing eight different charges of embezzlement.

Diaz is accused of misappropriating $10,400 worth of checks for his personal benefit. The checks were written by Esperanza from October 2013 to May 2014, to be used to pay for counseling services. He is accused of conspiring with Zavala and aiding and abetting her in embezzlement. He is charged with four types of embezzlement.

“The allegations in this case reveal a complete disservice to and disregard for the students and community as a whole,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.

“Detroit Public Schools has and will continue to cooperate with the Wayne County Prosecutor and her office in this matter,” Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Darnell Earley said.

(Charity B. Smith can be reached at