The Investigators

Jul 10, 2014 12:55 AM by Matthew Schwartz

N4T Investigators: Fraud at food bank?

Tucson - The News 4 Tucson Investigators found Anthony Bustamante in a park last fall. Now we've learned that the Pima County Sheriff's Department is investigating whether Bustamante spent money donated to the Vail Community Food Bank for personal expenses.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Dep. Courtney Rodriguez says investigators in PCSD's financial crimes unit are working the case. "We are actively investigating the possible fraudulent use of their funds," Rodriguez told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "We have several leads that we're following up on."

Rodriguez would not say the Department is actively seeking Bustamante, or even investigating him specifically. But sources told the News 4 Tucson Investigators the PCSD's probe is focusing on what Bustamante did with thousands of dollars that were donated to the food bank, and supposed to go to buying food for the needy.

The 38 year-old Bustamante was the CEO and Director of the now-closed Vail Community Food Bank (previously known as the Vail Community Food Pantry). The News 4 Tucson Investigators first reported last fall that numerous food bank volunteers, board members and donors claimed Bustamante used the charity's debit card to buy things for himself.

Word of the current PCSD investigation has spread quickly in Vail among former food bank volunteers, including Tiffany Harris. She told us, "The community put their heart and soul into giving for the needy people and for him to take from them, that's heartbreaking."

As the News 4 Tucson Investigators first reported in November, 2013, we obtained bank statements from the food bank's checking account. Among the transactions: $627 for Colorado River Adventures; $249 to T-Mobile; $100 for Vail Vikings Youth Football (Bustamante and his children lived in Vail) and many other charges and withdrawals.

When we caught up with Bustamante last fall, we asked, "Did you ever make any ATM withdrawals with the Vail Community Food Bank debit card for your own personal expenses?" He said, " No, I did not. I used it all for the Vail Community Food Bank."

Then we showed Bustamante 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 (the food bank's debit card) ‘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."

We're not sure which merchants he's referring to do not take cash.

Additionally, Internal Revenue Service regulations say "No part of the net earnings of a 501 (c) (3) may benefit a private shareholder or individual."

Sources tell us that soon after our first report, Anthony Bustamante went to California. His current whereabouts are unknown. Sheriff's Department investigators would like to talk to anyone who might know anything about this case. Incidentally, the now-closed Vail Community Food Bank has nothing to do with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com, or call 955-4444.

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