Western International principal guilty of embezzlement

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — The principal of Western International High School pleaded guilty Monday to criminal charges of embezzlement in connection with a nonprofit operating at the school.

Rodolfo Benavides-Diaz, who is on an unpaid administrative leave, pleaded guilty to embezzlement over $1,000 and less than $20,000 from the Esperanza Detroit Non-Profit; an organization that provided in-house counselors to at-risk students at Western.

As part of his sentence agreement, Benavides-Diaz will be given probation but will have to pay $11,500 in restitution to Esperanza Detroit. He will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Sept. 29 before Judge Catherine Heise.

Benavides-Diaz’ co-defendant, Cecilia Zavala, who was the chief operating officer of the nonprofit, pleaded no contest July 11 to embezzlement over $1,000 and less than $20,000, and also to using a computer to commit a crime. She is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 9 before Heise.

According to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, the Detroit Public Schools Office of Inspector General noticed irregularities with some checks issued by the nonprofit in April 2014.

An official for Esperanza Detroit conducted an internal audit and turned over its findings to Detroit Police, which forwarded the results of an investigation to the prosecutor’s office.

Benavides-Diaz was immediately placed on administrative leave.

Authorities said from November 2011 until May 2014, Zavala, of Wyandotte, embezzled more than $100,000 from Esperanza Detroit for her personal use, including using the nonprofit’s credit and debit cards without authorization to pay for a car, jewelry and hotel stays.

Benavides-Diaz is accused of receiving checks totaling $10,400 from Esperanza from October 2013 through May 2014. Benavides-Diaz, of Lincoln Park, spent the money on himself, authorities said. He allegedly assisted Zavala in embezzling more.

“The allegations in this case reveal a complete disservice to and disregard for the students and the community,” Worthy said in a statement when the pair were charged last year.


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