A federal jury Thursday found Mary Holden Ayala guilty of stealing nearly $1 million from an Oregon foster agency that she had led as president and executive director.
Ayala, 59, who ran the private foster care agency Give Us This Day from 2008 through 2015, was found guilty of multiple counts of theft, money laundering and filing false personal income tax returns after an eight-day trial before U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez.
Ayala led the agency from at least 2008 through 2015.
“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, in a prepared statement after the verdict.
The agency primarily received funding from Oregon and the federal government to hire and screen foster parents for community placements, pay foster parents for services and place foster children in residential or group homes. The federal funding came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was administrated by the state.
With no internal controls in place, Ayala wrote checks, used the foster care agency’s debit card and withdrew cash at will, using the organization’s bank accounts as her own, prosecutors said.
Ayala used the money to pay her mortgage, remodel her home and fund other retail, travel and transportation expenses, and to support other unrelated business ventures, including a media company and Big Mary’s, a fish and ribs restaurant in Portland.
The agency’s board of directors was made up of out-of-state members who relied on Ayala for information and “served as a rubber-stamp to Ayala’s requests,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Maddux said.
“The environment created by defendant Ayala allowed her to commit her multi-year theft and successfully conceal her actions,’’ Maddux argued.
While Ayala was diverting the money for her own personal use, her employees, foster parents and foster children in the agency’s care suffered, according to the government. The agency’s residential center and house managers complained about a lack of basic necessities, including food, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
In 2015, the day after Ayala resigned her position, 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.
Ayala’s denied the allegations and maintained that the government didn’t have the evidence to support its allegations, according to defense lawyer Whitney Boise. If there was any underpayment of taxes, Ayala didn’t do so knowingly, he argued.
The FBI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service investigated the case.
Ayala will be sentenced on May 29. The government has seized more than $450,000 in criminally-derived proceeds from Ayala that it will seek to forfeit after her sentencing.