Robert Zappelli
Robert Zappelli

A Torrance man allegedly stole $95,000 from the Lawndale Rotary Club while serving as its treasurer for seven years, a detective said Friday.

Robert Alan Zappelli, 65, allegedly created false bank statements that he showed to Rotary officials to hide the crime, county sheriff's Detective Rod Barton said.

Zappelli took the money, Barton said, because his printing business was in trouble.

"He said he used it to keep his business afloat in tough economics," Barton said.

In a short interview, Zappelli admitted to taking the money because his business was in trouble.

"It's a horrible thing I did. It's a bad thing," Zappelli said. "Those are good people in Rotary. I did a lot of good things in Rotary. This diminishes everything that I did. It was to keep my business afloat."

Zappelli, who pleaded not guilty on Thursday in Torrance court, has returned $34,000 since the investigation was opened. He said he is remorseful and plans to reimburse the club before his next court date March 11.

"I lost all their trust," he said. "They trusted me to handle the money. Obviously I blew it. They are going to get all the money back."

Zappelli, who served as treasurer from August 2005 to July 2012, allegedly made payments out of Rotary accounts to his own printing business for services the club never received, and printed the false bank statements at his business, Barton said.

The theft was discovered last year when teachers tried to buy books for underprivileged children with Rotary checks that bounced, Barton said.

Members soon found the inflated amounts on their bank statements did not match the amount of cash in the bank.

Prosecutors charged Zappelli with eight felony counts of grand theft. Zappelli was arrested Wednesday.

Rotary officials could not be reached for comment.

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com

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