Chippewa Valley Embezzler Gets 31 Months
Detroit Free Press by: David Ashenfelter - Free Press Staff Writer
A former Chippewa Valley elementary school principal was sentenced Thursday to 31 months in prison for embezzling $399,691 from the school's child care and parent-teacher programs from 1996 to 2003.
"I'm aware I've let down and hurt many people," Richard Zaranek, 56, of Grosse Pointe Farms told U.S. District Judge John Feikens moments before sentencing. Zaranek also apologized to friends, family members and school district administrators and parents from Cherokee Elementary School, where the theft occurred.
Feikens said he also will order Zaranek to pay restitution. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Bullotta and Rita Foley are recommending he pay $399,691, the amount they said investigators can prove was taken. School officials said they want Zaranek to pay $1.1 million, which includes their cost of investigating and prosecuting the case. They say he took $641,762.
Feikens is to decide on an amount soon.
Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Mark Deldin and parent Robert Ronald told Feikens that Zaranek's conduct had a devastating effect on students, families and employees who once regarded him as a role model.
Zaranek pleaded guilty last October to embezzlement and money laundering in a plea deal that called for 24-33 months in prison, a $60,000 fine and restitution. Bullotta said he wanted him sentenced to 33 months in prison. Zaranek's lawyer, Domnick Sorise, recommended 24 months. Feikens said he could report to prison after June 21.
Foley told Feikens that the government has received $234,729 from Zaranek through the sale of property and forfeited bank accounts, insurance policies and oil and gas joint ventures.
The restitution will go to the school district.
The motive for the theft remains a mystery.
Deldin said Zaranek siphoned funds from Cherokee's latchkey program and Parent Teacher Organization partly by persuading parents to let him handle the money. He said Zaranek created phony paperwork to account for the funds and left enough money in the programs to avoid suspicion.
Zaranek also took school property - a tractor, a lawn mower, gym equipment, mountain-climbing equipment, a computer and a puppet theater. The lawn equipment was found at his cottage in Hillman, near Alpena. Other items were said to be found at his home in Grosse Pointe Farms and his brother's residence.
The thefts came to light when someone alerted the Michigan Department of Education. The school board fired Zaranek in April 2003.
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