Nov 5, 2013 3:45 PM by Matthew Schwartz
TUCSON - Several people have told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that the CEO/Director of the Vail Community Food Bank used it as his personal piggy bank. Former board members, donors and volunteers say the man, Anthony Bustamante, took money that was supposed to buy food for the needy, to buy things for himself.
Former Logistics Specialist Tiffany Harris said, "Anthony is a snake in the grass. And I'm sorry I have to say it like that, but that's how I feel."
Former volunteer Tammi Coles told us, "He made himself out to be this savior, that he was doing God's work. And he turned himself into the devil."
Sandy Skaja, who donated to the food bank, said, "I just kind of felt violated, I felt like I'd been cheated."
The News 4 Tucson Investigators found Bustamante in a park. He appeared surprised if not stunned when we showed him some documents, as you will see in a minute. The charity he ran out of a small office behind a Vail shopping center gave food to more than 300 people every two weeks, before it closed in September.
Logistics specialist Harris said, "When I left the food bank I left him a note telling him that I resigned, I didn't trust him, that I didn't feel that the food bank's money should be spent on his own lifestyle, it shouldn't be used as a piggy bank, his piggy bank."
Harris was also one of the charity's three board members, which included Bustamante himself. Sany Skaja and her husband Tim donated $600 along with food and toys. She fought back tears when she told us, "There are people hurting, people need help, and it's just...it's inexusable.
David Hessel was a food bank volunteer until quitting when he became disillusioned. He says that on Aug. 31, Bustamante had him load the agency's truck with donated items and bring them to Bustamante's house.
Hessel told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "We had probably, I would say, at least 800 cans of food. And at least a shopping cart, maybe two shopping carts, full of diapers."
Some food bank workers believe the diapers were for Bustamante's infant. And there is this: The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained bank statements from the food bank's checking account. Among the transactions: $627.42 for "Colorado River Adventures; $249.19 to T-Mobile; $100 for "Vail Vikings Youth Football," and numerous other charges and withdrawals.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators approached Bustamanted in a public park and asked him "Did you ever make any ATM withdrawals with the Vail Community Food Bank debit card for your own personal expenses?" He answered, "No, I did not. I used it all for the Vail Community Food Bank."
But then we showed Bustamante that we had the bank statements, and his answers changed.
We asked, "Where did this money come from that you purchased the River Adventure trip, textbooks, numerous Starbucks, Circle K's and ATM withdrawals on the food bank's debit card?" He replied, " All the money that came from me, I sold the stuff from my house cause I'm moving. So what I did was I used this cause I didn't have another card, another credit card or anything, so I used this to make the transactions because these people don't take cash.
Bustamante said he used the food bank's debit card because he doesn't have a personal checking account. He claimed he deposited money to make up for all of his withdrawals and purchases. However, we did the math and his deposits fall hundreds of dollars short. Additionally, everyone we interviewed said before closing the food bank, Bustamante said he'd give the remaining food to a nearby food bank, Greater Vail Community Services.
Mark Tate of that food bank told us, "Well, for whatever reason, we never received any of the food." But that was sometimes what Mr. Bustamante would say. Would say one thing and do another.
Back at the park, we had more questions for Bustamante. We said, "You did admit to me, did you not, that you used the food bank debit card..." He cut us off, saying, "I have to go, my daughter's here now, I have to go. I appreciate your time, thank you very much."
Donor Sandy Skyja said, "I wonder how he sleeps at night."
Internal Revenue Service regulations say "No part of the net earning of a 501(c)(3) organization may benefit a private shareholder or individual." The people we spoke with from the Vail Community Food Bank say they have filed or will be filing complaints with the IRS, about Anthony Bustamante.
Remember, if you have a story you would like us to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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