Described as outgoing and friendly, Ruthann Oppenheim really wanted to help soldiers, said Andrew Meverden, an Army chaplain and chairman of the Colorado National Guard Foundation.
“She came recommended to us from another organization and seemed to have a genuine interest in military families,” he said. “She was enthusiastic and, at the time, seemed like a good fit.”
But what followed during her three-year appointment as treasurer of one of the state’s largest military charities would leave a string of unanswered questions that would take more than a year to answer.
“It’s really a case of trust betrayed,” said Meverden with a sigh. “And I think that’s probably the hardest thing for us to deal with.”
Oppenheim is charged with felony theft of close to $350,000 from the CNGF and the Military Family Relief Fund. She is accused of using the money, meant to help families of deployed military personnel, to make personal purchases and pay credit card bills.
Court affidavits paint a troubling picture of the 34-year-old Arizona native who wanted to remain the organization’s treasurer beyond her unpaid three-year appointment.
“She had offered to stay several times,” said Meverden. “But we explained to her the appointment was for three years, and she’d have to step down.”
Affidavits claim Oppenheim deleted financial records from 2009 to 2010, and became evasive when asked to provide records for reconciliation.
On Feb. 10, 2012, a month after her term ended, CNGF board members contacted the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office to investigate what looked like a case of embezzlement.
When asked about the missing funds, court documents state Oppenheim told investigators the payments to her were reimbursements for “stuff” she had paid for herself, and she would have to see the records to be sure.
Oppenheim was asked to come by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and view the records, but called back saying she could not make the appointment, that she didn’t understand what was going on and it was “her money that went into the accounts and her money that went out.”
Attempts to contact Oppenheim were unsuccessful.
Meverden said the incident has been an expensive learning experience.
“It just goes to show you that small nonprofits and small businesses can be very, very vulnerable and that even with limited resources, you’ve got to have those checks and balances in place.”