Tucson assisted living worker arrested in jewelry theft

Sylvia Delgado Cruz

A Tucson caregiver who stole and pawned 10 items of jewelry from one of her patients was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years’ probation Thursday in Pima County Superior Court.

Last October, a resident at The Fountains at La Cholla, called the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to report several items of jewelry were missing from her dresser drawer, according to court documents.

The 86-year-old woman, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time, told detectives she had seen the jewelry the day before and only one caregiver had had access to her home.

Through the course of his investigation, the detective discovered the caregiver, Sylvia Cruz, 64, had pawned 102 items between Jan. 1, 2012, and Oct. 19, 2012, receiving more than $17,000, court documents indicate.

The detective told two pawnshops to hold onto some items and the victim’s daughter identified them as belonging to her mother.

When questioned, Cruz initially denied stealing anything, but then ultimately confessed and told a detective she had hidden some of the victim’s jewelry in a pair of scrubs in her closet, court documents state. Those items were later recovered.

Cruz was fired by her employer Watermark at Home and she pleaded guilty to theft/financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

Under the terms of her plea agreement, she could have received up to two years in prison.

The victim’s daughter wrote a letter to Pima County Superior Court Judge Howard Hantman. While she did not recommend a sentence, JoAnn Schock Luther said she suspects Cruz victimized other vulnerable adults.

“The crime left my mother feeling scared, depressed, nervous and unable to sleep at night,” Luther wrote. “She kept thinking Ms. Cruz or one of her family members was going to come back and break into her apartment. All of this surely had an affect on her ability to heal from her cancer treatment.”

Prior to Thursday’s hearing, Cruz told a probation officer she was struggling to support herself, her son and her grandson at the time of the thefts. During the hearing, however, she told Hantman she spent her ill-gotten gains gambling, Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jesse Delaney said.

Hantman ordered Cruz to pay the victim more than $3,600 in restitution for jewelry not recovered by the police. He also told her she can’t work with vulnerable adults or pawn items while on probation.

Cruz, who reads below a sixth-grade level and has no prior criminal history, is currently working part-time as a janitor.

Only 10 of the 102 pawned items belonged to Luther’s mother, Delaney said.

As a result, investigators have asked The Fountains and Watermark at Home to assist them in identifying all of Cruz’s patients and other residents of the assisted living facility.

People who believe they may have been victimized are encouraged to call 628-6362.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com. On Twitter: @KimSmithStar

On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith’s blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse

Senior Editor, News, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Az.