Mary Holden Ayala, 59, of Portland, was sentenced today to 33 months in federal prison and three years’ supervised release for stealing over $1 million from an Oregon foster care agency, money laundering and filing false personal income tax returns. On February 7, 2019, after eight days of trial, Ayala was convicted by a federal jury in Portland on five counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, two counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property and seven counts of filing a false federal tax return.
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. “Mary Holden Ayala was responsible for protecting and caring for children in Oregon’s foster care system. Instead she callously stole from them,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “Stealing from vulnerable children she was entrusted to serve with taxpayer money is a despicable act and warrants severe consequences.”
“Foster children have already lost almost everything—their parents, their homes, their sense of security. Mary Holden Ayala took from them the last thing they had—faith in a foster care system that is supposed to give them a chance at a better life. To steal from society’s most vulnerable children to enrich yourself is simply unconscionable,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.
“Mary Ayala’s crimes include stealing funds intended to provide support for juvenile foster kids entrusted in her care, spending the funds selfishly on a luxurious lifestyle, and then hiding her personal use of the funds by filing false tax returns,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell. “Today’s sentence holds Ayala accountable. IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to work with our partners and investigate those who steal from the most vulnerable in our society.”
“Stealing money meant to pay for foster care expenses is reprehensible,” said Special Agent in Charge Steven Ryan of the HHS Office of Inspector General. “Such greed-fueled fraud can impact those in need and cheats taxpayers; however, today’s sentence shows that our hardworking investigators and law enforcement partners are committed to making sure criminals are held accountable for their actions.”
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, Big Mary’s fish and ribs restaurant in Portland, and to purchase and flip a commercial property. In total, Ayala stole over $1 million from GUTD. As a result, her employees, foster parents and foster children in GUTD’s care suffered. GUTD residential 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. During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez ordered Ayala to pay $239,192 in restitution to the IRS and $1,025,235 to satisfy a forfeiture money judgement. The court also forfeited to the U.S. more than $451,000 in net proceeds from the sale of a commercial property on NE Martin Luther King Boulevard in Portland that Ayala purchased with stolen GUTD funds.
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.
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.