A confidential email leaked to APTN Investigates shows the federal Aboriginal Affairs department (AANDC) has damning proof of serious misspending by the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters, but there’s no evidence that the government has done anything to recoup the cash or seek justice on behalf of taxpayers.
The email, dated Jan. 8, 2014 is from AANDC to both MANFF’s president Doyle Wilson and executive director Daren Mini. In four pages, it outlines the findings of an audit by KPMG, which was hired to investigate serious allegations against the agency that has been paid more than $90 million to feed and house members of two Manitoba First Nations whose communities were written-off by provincial government-caused flooding in 2011.
Last year, APTN Investigates detailed allegations of hard-partying and serious mismanagement at MANFF, including a questionable trip to Vancouver by Mini and a female staff member. Her Facebook account of the trip seemed more pleasure than business. The audit showed MANFF paid $4,200 for the trip – including one hotel room for two adults — but only Mini was registered to attend a conference there.
APTN Investigates also detailed questionable overtime and expense claims. The audit showed that one employee was paid $42,000 in overtime for every year reviewed. As well, it was reported by APTN Investigates that a high-end eatery was paid $1 million to provide late night snacks for evacuees. The audit, though, showed the amount was actually $2 million, and that the restaurant’s prices were inflated by “in certain cases in excess of 100 per cent,” which MANFF paid without complaint.
APTN Investigates reported last month that some MANFF staff and board members were given rewards points earned at hotels where evacuees were staying. The audit confirmed that, proving people received gift cards ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. In all, $61,800 worth of loyalty points were converted to gifts for MANFF staff and board members.
While some of the audit’s findings could be interpreted as criminal, AANDC will not inform the public if the RCMP is asked to investigate.
“Should AANDC find indications of criminal wrongdoing, the information would be turned over to the appropriate policing authority. This information is not publicly disclosed,” said Ellen Funk, AANDC’s Manitoba Regional Director of Communications.
Retha Dykes managed one of the hotels that was stiffed by MANFF in 2013. She and owner Mike Bruneau blew the lid off of MANFF’s financial dysfunction when they went to the media with complaints about $2.6 million in unpaid food and lodging bills at Misty Lake Lodge and Ashern Hotels, which housed dozens of evacuees long-term.
MANFF was given government money to pay, yet couldn’t. So AANDC cut a cheque to settle up.
Dykes points out that means taxpayers paid the tab twice.
She’s outraged by the contents of the email to MANFF from AANDC.
“The fact that the letter is dated in January proves once again that AANDC has been aware of the wrong doings of MANFF for a long time,” Dykes said. “Throughout this ordeal we have brought our concerns to the attention of AANDC and were always told that they would look into it. This letter proves that they are fully aware of what MANFF has been up to yet continue to provide them with our tax dollars to squander. Why they do this I think is the most important question. AANDC is either incapable or unwilling to properly manage the funds. Both options prove expensive for all Canadians.”
The lack of police involvement is particularly offensive, she says.
“The fact that the RCMP have not been involved yet is also very puzzling. I suppose their involvement requires a complaint from the victim of the fraud. AANDC has not been willing to stand up but all the evacuees and each and every Canadian that pays taxes are victims here,” said Dykes.
“The government is really going to have to explain that to taxpayers, how this happened and after they knew it was happening, how they let it keep going,” said Bruneau.
But AANDC’s only statement regarding MANFF’s misspending has been “AANDC takes allegations and complaints of misuse of taxpayer dollars very seriously and is committed to ensuring that they are being directed toward the purpose for which they are intended.”
AANDC said a month ago “the audit findings will be posted on our website in due course.”
That has not happened.
MANFF was given 30 days to respond to the audit’s findings by Sylvie Lecompte, the director of AANDC’s Ottawa-based Assessment and Investigation Services Branch.
Seven months have now passed since that Feb. 7, 2014 deadline.