2 charged with embezzling from Detroit school program

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has charged a high school principal and the chief operating officer of a nonprofit with embezzling money targeted for at-risk students at Detroit schools.


Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Western High School principal Rodolfo Benavides-Diaz and Esperanza Detroit COO Cecilia Zavala with stealing money from Esperanza Detroit.

The agency provides services and in-house counselors to at-risk students at Western International High School and other Detroit public schools.

According to Worthy, in April 2014 the DPS' Office of Inspector General noticed irregularities with some checks issued by the organization.

A member of Esperanza Detroit did an internal audit and turned findings over to the Detroit Police Department, which then turned it over to the prosecutor's office.

Michelle Zdrodowski, DPS spokesperson said, "Detroit Public Schools has and will continue to cooperate with the Wayne County Prosecutor and her office on this matter, which includes allegations/charges not directly tied to district funds.


"Mr. Diaz has been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately. Western International High School will continue to be led by the program directors who were selected to lead the 2015 summer school program at that school."

It is alleged that from November 2011 until May 2014, Zavala, 35, of Wyandotte, embezzled more than $100,000 from Esperanza Detroit for her own use, including using the organization's credit and debit cards without authorization to pay for restaurants, jewelry, a car and hotel stays.

From October 2013 through May 2014, it is alleged that Diaz, 35, of Lincoln Park, received checks totaling $10,400 written on the Esperanza account and used it for his personal use. It is also alleged he aided and abetted Zavala in embezzling mone.

Zavala has been charged with embezzlement more than $100,000, embezzlement more than $1,000 (nonprofit) and embezzlement more than $1,000.

She has also been charged with conspiracy embezzlement, using a computer to commit embezzlement more than $100,000.

Diaz has been charged with embezzlement more than $1,000, conspiracy embezzlement, embezzlement more than $1,000 (nonprofit) and conspiracy to embezzle.

"The allegations in this case reveal a complete disservice to and disregard for the students and the community," Worthy said in a statement.

Zavala and Diaz were arraigned at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in 36th District Court. They have probable cause conferences scheduled for July 8 before Judge Kenneth King. They also have preliminary examinations scheduled for July 15 before King.


(313) 222-2023

Detroit News Staff Writer Shawn D. Lewis contributed.