PORTLAND, Ore. — The former head of a private Oregon foster care agency has been sentenced to nearly 3 years in federal prison after stealing more than $1 million from the program, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon.
59-year-old Mary Holden Ayala of Portland served as the president and executive director of Give Us This Day between 2008 and 2015. The organization was founded as a private foster care agency and residential program for youth, but prosecutors said that Ayala used it as a private bank account during her time there.
“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.”
According to court documents, Give Us This Day was funded in large part by the Oregon state and federal governments for foster care services — including hiring and screening foster parents, compensating foster parents for services, and placing foster children in residential or group homes.
Beginning in 2009, Ayala had sole control over the agency's finances — no other employee had access to bank accounts or statements. During that time, the U.S. Attorney's Office said that Ayala wrote checks, used the company debit card and withdrew cash whenever she wanted, "using the organization’s bank accounts as her own."
“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.
Ayala used the money to pay her mortgage, remodel her home, take trips and go shopping. She also founded her own media company, bought and flipped a commercial property, and opened up "Big Mary's Fish & Ribs" restaurant in Portland.
Prosecutors estimate that Ayala stole more than $1 million from Give Us This Day during her tenure, while employees, foster parents and foster kids suffered for it.
"GUTD residential house managers complained about a lack of basic necessities, including but not limited to food, toiletries and cleaning supplies," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Ayala was convicted in February 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.
On Friday, a federal judge sentenced Ayala to 33 months in federal prison and three years' probation. She has also been ordered to pay more than $200,000 to the IRS, more than $1 million to satisfy a forfeiture money judgment, and she will be force to forfeit more than $450,000 from the sale of her commercial property.