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Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

The financial records, however, told a different story. When FBI forensic accountants began analyzing the organization’s finances, they found that for several years, Ayala didn’t even have her own bank account. She simply used the Give Us This Day account for her own benefit and its funds as her personal bankroll.

“This case really came down to the money trail,” said Brandon Tabbal, one of the FBI forensic accountants who worked on the case and sorted through thousands of charges they came to believe were personal expenses.

Tabbal said some violations were obvious, like payments to luxury retailers, spas, and Ayala’s own mortgage. Other items, like cash withdrawals, were harder to prove as misuse of funds but the overall picture was clear. “You could see that the money would come in from the state, and then she would immediately divert the funds and spend it on her vacations or home remodel,” said Tabbal.

“She spent about $175,000 on renovations, put $126,000 toward her mortgage, spent $133,000 in travel,” said Swansinger. “And here we had kids not getting basic necessities and employees not getting paid on time.”

No one at the organization looked over Ayala’s shoulder. Her employees trusted her, and the board of directors—whose members all lived out of state—was not involved in the agency’s day-to-day operations.

At trial, the assistant U.S. attorney showed a handful of the charts assembled by the FBI’s forensic accountants to illustrate Ayala’s crimes and undo the defense’s attempts to justify how she used the organization’s funds.

“With charts up that documented and traced and tracked all the money, it really brought it home for the jury how egregious it all was,” said Williams. He and Swansinger both described the verdict against Ayala as righteous but also tragic.

“It was one of the more emotional cases I’ve worked,” reflected Swansinger. “It left behind a scathing hole in the community and a lot of distrust.”

Tabbal stressed that no organization should operate without accountability and oversight, as Give Us This Day did, and that employees should always speak up if they observe irregularities. “Trust,” he said, “is not an adequate internal control.”

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