By Richard Winton, Times Staff Writer Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. -- A community service officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that she embezzled about $7,000 that she solicited from businesses on behalf of a fund for a medically disabled deputy.
Imelda Zambrano, 28, of South Gate was allegedly videotaped last month receiving a check for the relief fund from a restaurant owner; prosecutors say she deposited the check into her own bank account.
"She'd been doing this kind of thing for about a year," Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Krag said. "What she didn't know this time was, it was a sting operation."
Zambrano, a civilian employee at the Century station in Lynwood, was arrested Thursday by the sheriff's internal criminal investigation bureau. She is charged with six counts of grand theft for allegedly taking several checks collected from Lynwood and Los Angeles County businesses. On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry Barela reduced Zambrano's bail from $20,000 to $5,000 at the request of her attorney and set a preliminary hearing for March 14. A sheriff's spokesman said she remains an employee on leave, pending the outcome of the case.
Zambrano had worked with the medically disabled deputy, who was injured in the line of duty, said Krag, who declined to identify the officer.
"She had contacted him shortly after the fund had been created. He'd given her permission to collect for the fund," the prosecutor said. "She took advantage of a colleague in need. It is a terrible, pathetic crime."
From Feb. 7, 2000, to Feb. 2, 2001, Zambrano contacted business owners and asked them to write checks but leave the payee's line blank because she wanted to use a stamp, Krag said. Later, "she put her own name on the payee line, deposited it into her personal checking account and spent the funds," Krag said.
Prosecutors said most of the business owners paid by check but in one case a proprietor supplied $300 a month in cash for half a year.
The alleged scam, Krag said, fell apart when one of the business owners asked some deputies from the Century station about a $350 contribution he allegedly gave to Zambrano.
That prompted sheriff's investigators to conduct the sting operation Feb. 2 at a restaurant that had previously donated money, Krag said.
"They videotaped the transaction inside of the office at the restaurant and she is seen discussing in Spanish the injured deputy and taking the check," he said.