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Ex-bookkeeper accused of embezzling $970K from Tucson Museum of Art

Bookkeeper forged signatures, took cash, attorney general says

A former Tucson Museum of Art employee accused of embezzling nearly $1 million from its payroll account and gift shop receipts over five years was arraigned Monday on seven felony charges in Pima County Superior Court.

Ruth Sons, 65, of Tucson, pleaded not guilty to the charges: three counts of fraud, three counts of theft and one count of illegally conducting an enterprise.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a news release Monday that Sons allegedly embezzled $973,010 from the museum, where she worked “as a bookkeeper and accountant.”

He said her alleged crimes include forging the signatures of the museum’s chief financial officer and museum director; stealing cash intended for deposit from sales at the museum shop, and “manipulating the museum’s general accounting ledger to conceal the embezzlement.”

Meredith Hayes, director of public relations and marketing at the museum, said Sons’ employment at the museum ended in December 2008 but she could not say whether Sons quit or was fired, citing privacy of personnel records.

Hays issued a statement Monday describing TMA’s cooperation with the Arizona attorney general’s investigation of the matter.

The Tucson Police Department’s Fraud Unit also is involved in the investigation, she said.

“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 nonprofits,” Hayes said in the statement.

“The investigation, however, has shown that we allowed ourselves to become overly trusting of this employee,” she said.

Sons worked at the museum for 18 years, Hayes said. Museum administrators believed she “was doing her job well.”

The museum’s statement does not address how Sons allegedly could have taken such a large sum without being detected earlier.

Anne Titus Hilby, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said in a news release the “alleged scheme was uncovered during an internal audit conducted by the museum last year.”

Dozens of forged checks were cashed at a check cashing business in Tucson, according to documents in the case.

The penalties Sons faces if convicted range from probation to as much as 80 years in prison.

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