AASLH Victim of Staff Fraud


March 27, 2012

Dear Friends and Family of AASLH,

Shortly before the Annual Meeting last September in Richmond, AASLH staff discovered alarming financial irregularities. Authorities were immediately notified, and staff began the time-consuming process of supporting an intensive criminal investigation. Although the District Attorney’s office constrained communications during the investigation, we were authorized to report to the membership at the Annual Meeting that the organization was the victim of apparent fraud and that no current staff members were suspected.

We anticipated that the criminal investigation would conclude by Thanksgiving and that we would then be able to brief members more fully, although civil litigation would likely ensue. The criminal investigation, however, has just concluded in the arrest today of Risa Woodward and her husband, Jim Woodward, charging them with ten counts of fraud against AASLH totaling $730,315.25, that began in 2007. Risa had been employed at AASLH since 1991 and served as financial manager since 1994, stepping down last August. The shock and sense of betrayal, the hurt and anger have been palpable.

Since discovery of the fraud in September, Council has met eight times, and the Executive Committee thrice, to keep abreast of developments and their impact and to help keep AASLH on track. The programs that distinguish AASLH have not been affected, nor has staffing. We have estimated the adverse cash flow impact and adopted strategies to address the shortfall. Financial controls and oversight have been strengthened in numerous ways, and accountability has been addressed by Council. Forensic accountants helped to pinpoint the means and amount of the loss. Legal counsel will pursue every possible recourse to make AASLH whole, although, of course, that will take some time.

We look forward to being able to share more information as the legal proceedings permit, but we are relieved at last to be able to report, to you who are the heart and soul of AASLH, the conclusion of the criminal investigation. Please know that AASLH staff and your Council are working hard to sustain AASLH’s effectiveness.

With your support, we will see this vital national association of history organizations and committed professionals and volunteers through this challenging time.

D. Stephen Elliott, Council Chair, AASLH
Director and CEO, Minnesota Historical Society



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