Former President of Oregon Foster Care Agency Convicted on Theft, Money Laundering and Tax Evasion Charges
Story by by Oregon Herald staff
From at least 2008 to 2015, Ayala, a longtime Portland resident, served as the President, Executive Director and primary agent of Give Us This Day (GUTD), a private foster care agency and residential program for youth.
"Children in foster care rely heavily on the agency to which they are entrusted and these agencies are responsible for protecting and caring for them. Mary Holden Ayala grossly neglected her duties and selfishly stole from children in need," said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. "This prosecution demonstrates our firm commitment to protecting the integrity of federally-funded social service programs."
"Abuse, drug addiction and violent crime can force children into a foster care system that is supposed to give them a second chance at a better life. One person's greed can corrupt that system, though, leading to victimization of these vulnerable kids. Help stop such victimization and strengthen important institutions by reporting public corruption when you see it," said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.
"Mary Ayala's theft of nearly $1 million was nothing short of stealing food and shelter from the most vulnerable of our population," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Troy Burrus, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Seattle Field Office. "Instead of ensuring the children entrusted to her care were properly clothed and fed, Ayala used the money for luxury home renovations, a pilot for a reality show, extensive travel to luxury resorts, music recording studio, luxury shoes and purses. Her final act of contempt was to attempt to hide the stolen money by filing federal tax returns without declaring the stolen funds."
"Ms. Ayala's crimes are disturbing: she embezzled money meant to assist foster care children and their families," said Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. "We will continue to investigate such greed-fueled fraud schemes."
According to court documents, since its inception in 1979, GUTD was primarily funded by the Oregon state and federal government for foster care services including hiring and screening foster parents for community placements, compensating foster parents for services and placing foster children in residential or group homes. GUTD federal funding originated from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was administrated by ODHS.
From 2009 through 2015, Ayala exercised sole and complete control over GUTD finances. No other GUTD employee or board member had access to the organization's bank accounts or statements during this time. With no internal controls in place, Ayala wrote checks, used the GUTD debit card and withdrew cash at will, using the organization's bank accounts as her own.
Ayala used the money stolen from GUTD to pay her mortgage, remodel her home and fund other retail, travel and transportation expenses. Additionally, she used the money to fund other, non-GUTD business ventures including a media company and Big Mary's, a fish and ribs restaurant in Portland, and to purchase and flip a commercial property.
In total, Ayala stole nearly $1 million from GUTD. As a result, her employees, foster parents and foster children in GUTD's care suffered tremendously. GUTD residential center and house managers complained about a lack of basic necessities, including but not limited to food, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
In 2015, the day after Ayala resigned her position at GUTD, she filed five false federal income tax returns for tax years 2009 through 2013. Shortly thereafter, she filed a sixth false return for tax year 2014. Ayala failed to file a tax return in 2015.
In a superseding indictment returned on May 3, 2017, a federal grand jury in Portland charged Ayala with five counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, one count of concealment of money laundering, one count of failure to file a personal federal tax return and two counts each of engaging in monetary transactions with criminally derived property and filing a false personal federal tax return. The government dropped the concealment of money laundering charge prior to trial.
Ayala will be sentenced on May 29, 2019 by U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez.
The government has seized more than $450,000 in criminally-derived proceeds from Ayala that it will seek to forfeit by court order post sentencing.
This case was investigated by the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and IRS-Criminal Investigation. It was prosecuted by Donna Maddux, Clemon Ashley and Julia Jarrett, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.