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Former Fire Commissioner facing charges, including fraud

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Christopher Jones, Manitoba's former Fire Commissioner, will face charges of fraud, forgery and breach of trust by a public officer, RCMP said today.

Jones, who was ousted from his job in June 2011, is accused of doctoring documents to make expense claims to the tune of more than $55,000 between June 2009 and February 2011, RCMP said.

The police investigation began in November 2012 after Mounties received a forensic audit report from the provincial Comptroller's office.

That audit, completed by Manitoba's Auditor General, showed " allegations of irregular financial activities" in the Office of the Fire Commisioner (OFC).

"The RCMP investigation identified accountable advances and/or expense claims which were believed to have been supported by documents which had been fabricated and or forged," police said in a statement issued Friday.

"In excess of $55,000.00 was disbursed as unsupported payments with the ultimate beneficiary being the former Fire Commissioner for the Province of Manitoba," RCMP said.

Jones was recently arrested by officers in the federal serious organized crime unit and released on conditions. His first court date is in Winnipeg on Feb. 26, said police.

The provincial auditor general found former employees of the OFC allegedly colluded to fabricate expense claims for several years before being caught in 2011 when American Express cancelled a government-issued credit card for non-payment.

"Over several years, we believe, OFC employees received payments they were not entitled to that were supported by documents that may have been fabricated and, in one instance, may have been forged," Carol Bellringer said in January 2013.

When the irregularities came to light in mid-2011, Jones and the others were fired, while one other employee had retired two years previous.

The OFC investigates the cause of fires, co-ordinates rescue missions when people get lost in a forest or are stranded by floods, inspects elevators and boilers, issues building and occupancy permits and oversees training for firefighters and paramedics.

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