Fullerton Soccer Club Dealing With Embezzlement Charges

The District Attorney’s office is investigating the former treasurer of the Fullerton Rangers youth soccer group for possibly embezzling more than $190,000 from the volunteer organization, according to the Fullerton Police Department.

Separately, soccer club officials said Wednesday night the former treasurer, Laura Zellerbach, agreed to a confidential civil court settlement last fall but lawyers for the club told them not to publicly disclose the amount.

The Fullerton Rangers filed a complaint with the Fullerton police department in May, 2015, said Fullerton police spokeswoman Sgt. Kathryn Hamel. The complaint alleged at least $192,000 was missing between 2012 and 2015.

“The case is at the DA’s office,” said Hamel, adding it can take several months to investigate such allegations.

Zellerbach apparently left the Fullerton Rangers before the complaint was filed. Her husband, James Zellerbach, declined to discuss the issue Thursday in a brief telephone conversation.

“It’s a confidential settlement,” Rangers President Raul Valdivia told a reporter during a break in the meeting, declining to give an exact amount for the missing money.

In addition to the alleged embezzlement, the sometimes-heated soccer club board meeting highlighted other issues, including allegations a for-profit company was wrongly operating under the umbrella of the nonprofit soccer club and accusations some non-profit board members were acting in secret or punishing the children of parents who criticized the board by denying them spots on teams.

The full board of directors will meet Feb. 2 with city officials to discuss a range of issues, including the for-profit company. Club officers also must prove at least 80 percent of the soccer players live in Fullerton. The city regulates use of city fields by nonprofit groups.

The club sponsors about 172 teams and Hugo Curiel, Fullerton’s parks and recreation director, told those at the meeting that the city wanted to maintain recreational soccer.

But, he stressed that taxpayers pay for the playing fields and recreational, non-competitive use is the city’s top priority.

“If there is a for-profit out there,” Curiel said, “that is something that goes above and beyond …”

Rangers board member Jimmy Obleda, director of coaching and technical development, said all money received by the for-profit group, Rangers Academy LLC, goes to pay coaches.

According to the Fullerton Rangers web site, the academy is for children five to eight years old and those who enroll “will have an enhanced opportunity to graduate into our competitive Fullerton Rangers Club teams.”

Board members said it was the former treasurer, Zellerbach, who suggested they form the private company. Obleda said after the meeting the academy was created in response to requests for parents for more competitive training for their children.

“We thought we weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said. “We were actually trying to do the right thing.” He said the private academy is being dissolved and its work will be done by the non-profit Fullerton Rangers.

According to the most recent, publicly available tax statements, the Rangers bring in about $1 million a year, mostly from membership dues and assessments, and spend roughly $900,000, the bulk for coaches salaries and training.

The Fullerton Rangers haven’t done a full, independent audit of its finances, despite the missing money, because of the cost, board members said.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.