Tucson art museum employee charged with stealing $973K - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Tucson art museum employee charged with stealing $973K

Attorney General says former accountant forged signatures, took cash from Tucson Museum of Art

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Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 11:00 pm

Explorer staff reports

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard announced Monday the indictment of a Tucson Museum of Art employee on charges of embezzling more than $970,000.

Ruth Sons, a 65-year-old Tucsonan, stands accused of three counts of fraudulent schemes and artifices, three counts of theft and one count of illegally conducting an enterprise.

Sons worked as a bookkeeper and accountant at the museum since 1990, during which time she embezzled $973,010, the attorney general alleges.

If convicted on all counts, Sons could face as many as 80 years in prison.

In what investigators have described as an "elaborate" scheme to defraud the museum, Sons allegedly stole cash intended for deposit, forged signatures and falsified accounting entries to conceal the theft.

Officials discovered the scheme in the results of an internal audit of the museum.

Indictment papers filed in Pima County Superior Court reveal that Sons began embezzling funds in 2003 and that the graft continued until 2008.

In a written statement, TMA spokeswoman Meredith Hayes described the accused crimes as a "devastating deception" and said the misdeeds affect the entire museum community.

"As an American Association of Museums accredited museum with strict policies and procedures, we believed we were doing everything right with our internal systems, including having full financial audits conducted every year with an independent firm specializing in non-profits," Hayes noted in the statement. "The investigation, however, has shown that we allowed ourselves to become overly trusting of this employee."

Founded in 1924, the museum today occupies five historic buildings in downtown Tucson dating from the mid-1800s, plus a main gallery built in the 1970s.

Oro Valley leaders had sought to bring the museum to town in August 2008, after TMA directors made known their need for additional space for their growing collections.

Nothing has been decided on a possible move, however.

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