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Ex-bookkeeper suspected of embezzlement at Santa Rosa Salvation Army

Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:15 a.m.

A former bookkeeper for the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa this week joined a growing list of Sonoma County residents accused of lining their pockets by stealing from an employer.

Paula Fernandez, 48, had worked for the Christian charity for about a year and is suspected of stealing $50,000 during that time, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Mike Lazzarini said.

Investigators say Fernandez took the money from a "Season of Sharing" fund that provides emergency cash to people who need help covering bills during times of need, Lazzarini said.

Police say Fernandez cut checks for herself as well as family members and friends who then cashed the checks on her behalf. Fernandez told others the checks were payroll advances, Lazzarini said.

Fernandez appeared to have used the money to pay bills and forged checks to pay rent, Lazzarini said.

Fernandez came under suspicion Oct. 2 when her 26-year-old daughter tried to cash a check at Exchange Bank, Lazzarini said. Bank staff contacted the Salvation Army and then police. The daughter was not arrested, he said.

Officers arrested Fernandez at her Santa Rosa home Tuesday on suspicion of grand theft and forgery, Lazzarini said. She was later released on $25,000 bail.

Salvation Army staff did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Since 2011, North Coast detectives have investigated more than $4 million in funds stolen from local companies ranging from large real estate firms to churches and small-business owners.

In December, prosecutors filed additional charges against Charity D. Howder, a Santa Rosa bookkeeper originally arrested in September and accused of stealing more than $364,000 from three clients.

Prosecutors have not yet charged veteran Santa Rosa Junior College Officer Jeff Holzworth, 51. The Santa Rosa man was arrested Nov. 28 on suspicion of stealing perhaps thousands of dollars from parking meters, police said.

In one of the largest cases in recent years, Jodi Michele Azevedo, 44, of Petaluma pleaded guilty in December to stealing nearly $1.6 million from a firm where she'd worked for 16 years. Azevedo is to receive a six-year prison sentence.

Anyone with information about the Salvation Army case and Fernandez can call Santa Rosa Detective Patricia Seffens at 543-3575.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jjpressdem.

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