Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Auditor: Financial irregularities in fire commission office
Former employees of the Office of the Fire Commissioner received payments to which they were not entitled, using supporting documents that may have been fabricated, Manitoba’s Auditor General, Carol Bellringer, said in a report issued today.
The financial irregularities total $300,000 and cover the period from April 1, 2007 to July 2011, when the Selinger government called on Bellringer to conduct a forensic audit of the OFC.
"Many payments were for personal expenses, amounts were claimed on more than one occasion, and in a number of instances payments were made with no supporting documentation at all..." the auditor general said.
Five former senior officials with the OFC were implicated in the financial irregularities. Bellringer doesn’t name them in her report.
But government sources said in August 2011 they included former fire commissioner Christopher Jones and former deputy fire commissioner Justin Panagapko. The two, and one other OFC employee were fired that July. Another employee reportedly took early retirement.
Bellringer told a news conference at the Legislative Building today her findings suggest the former senior OFC officials "colluded" to circumvent the requirement for a deputy minister to approve the former fire commissioner’s expense claims.
She said in one case a document may have been forged.
"Travel related expenses which we believe were fabricated consisted of meal per diems, private accommodation, private vehicle mileage and incidental expenses, none of which require a receipt," Bellringer said in her report.
"Government vehicles were assigned or available to these staff so it is questionable why they used their own vehicle," she added.
The irregularities were uncovered in 2011 when the provincial comptroller was notified that the former fire commissioner’s American Express card had been cancelled by the company.
Bellringer’s report only goes back to April 1, 2007 because OFC documents prior to that were destroyed.
The financial irregularities predate Jones’s promotion to fire commissioner in late 2009.
Bellringer said there is no evidence to suggest that the irregularities involved anyone outside the OFC, a special operating agency of government.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner enforces fire and building codes, inspects elevators and boilers and investigates fires and trains firefighters and paramedics.
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