The top two leaders of the Fullerton Rangers Youth Soccer Club have resigned in the midst of the club’s treasurer pleading guilty to felonies related to more than $174,000 in embezzlement and money laundering from the club, city officials confirmed Tuesday.
The resignations of President Raul Valdivia and Vice President Raymundo Valdez were the first of several “sweeping” changes to the club’s operations, said a news release from the city.
“This immediate change in leadership is the Rangers’ first step in rebuilding trust and relationships within the community,” Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said in the news release. Her two children play on Ranger teams.
“The Rangers are also doing a complete revision of their bylaws to ensure transparency to the board, parents, and community,” she added. “The committees are also being restructured to include more parents, providing more opportunities for accountability and transparency within the organization.”
The new president is Munish Bharadwaja, a 20-year resident of Fullerton, a current member of the Ranger’s board of directors and a law enforcement officer and specialist in public relations.
“I have mandated that the organization provides all necessary information to city staff ensuring full compliance with policies, including supplying required player information, following permit processes, and conforming with the City of Fullerton’s Parks and Recreation’s policies,” Bharadwaja said in the release.
“I will be collaborating with players, families, coaches, managers, board members, and City staff to move forward as the region’s premiere soccer organization.”
Bharadwaja was elected Feb. 4, according to the news release. He credited Valdivia and Valdez with a “display of leadership” for “stepping down, in order to provide an opportunity for fresh eyes to resolve current issues and to move the club forward,”
Former Treasurer Laura Zellerbach pleaded guilty Feb. 5 to four felonies and was sentenced to one year in jail, ordered to repay the Rangers $227,000 and will spend five years on formal probation, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Separately, the city has demanded a number of documents concerning the club’s management and use of fields, including proof that 80 percent of the more than 2,000 children in its programs live in Fullerton, a requirement for using city-owned fields.
Parks and Recreation Director Hugo Curiel said in the release the city is committed to working with the Rangers to let children use the fields for recreational purposes.
City Manager Joe Felz, in a telephone interview, added an immediate goal is to provide “stable” use of the fields for the club’s members in coming weeks as the other issues are being resolved.
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